According to researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), samples of the H1N1 swine flu strain currently ravaging India indicate that the strain may have mutated to become more infectious and dangerous . As of March 15th, the country’s Ministry of Health estimates there to be 29,938 cases of swine flu across India, resulting in 1,731 deaths . These figures surpass the country’s H1N1 numbers from the 2009 pandemic, in which 27,236 cases and 981 deaths were reported .
Published earlier this month in an issue of Cell Host and Microbe, researchers Kannan Tharakaraman and Ram Sasisekharanan suggest that an evolution of the hemagglutinin (HA) protein — which encompasses “receptor binding, fusion, and transmission properties” — has taken place, resulting in a more virulent strain of the pandemic H1N1 virus, as well as increased disease severity among current flu cases in India . This is because one of the specific mutations can be linked to “increased severity of the disease, while another enhances its infectiousness” . The mutations, alongside ideal environmental conditions such as high population density — allowing for easier transmission — has permitted the virus to become entrenched within the population . According to Dr. Nicole Iovine, an infectious disease physician from the University of Florida, a majority of Indians do not get their flu vaccinations either .
What’s often concerning about this strain of swine flu in particular is its tendency to target young adults . While flu typically strikes children and elderly populations the hardest, this year’s H1N1 strain has shown to impact young adults the most. This is the same infection pattern as the 2009 and 1918 H1N1 pandemics . In their commentary, Tharakaraman and Sasisekharana call for increased influenza surveillance and monitoring, to allow for further examination of the mutation of the influenza virus and its implications .
Contrary to the recently published research on the topic, India’s National Institute of Virology claims that the swine flu virus strain currently causing the outbreak in the country is the same strain from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and that the strain has not mutated .