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H1N1 deaths: Experts look for reason behind spurt

They are studying whether there is any difference in the antigen of the virus.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | New Delhi | Updated: February 5, 2015 2:31:27 am

The National Institute of Virology (NIV) and National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) are undertaking a joint study to examine two possible reasons for the H1N1 spurt this year. They are studying whether there is any difference in the antigen of the virus, which the population is not exposed to, or there is resistance to the drug Oseltamivir, commonly known as Tamiflu.
Senior NCDC microbiologists, who have been participating in meetings of the Health Ministry since December, when the cases started surfacing, said the joint study was commissioned in January first week.

A senior scientist from the NCDC’s microbiology department said, “We have started straining of samples sent to us to identify the antigen strain of the H1N1 virus to see if there is any mutation. The idea is that if the strain has changed or mutated this season, it would explain the spurt in cases as the Indian population has only been exposed to a single strain of the virus since 2009, and developed immunity only to this strain.”

She said since 2009, in tests by NCDC with NIV Pune, no change in the antigen has been found. Recently, the two top institutes under ICMR were also asked to test for any resistance the virus has to Oseltamivir. This is the first time drug resistance in H1N1 will be studied in India.

“These investigations do not mean we have ruled out cyclical trends of the virus. Every virus has a cycle, so we saw more cases in 2012 and 2013. Last year could have been a trend in that cycle, annual shifts in trends are seen in every virus,” the NCDC expert said. There were 405 deaths in 2012 and 700 deaths in 2013 while the number dipped in 2014.

Dr Randeep Guleria, head of respiratory medicine in AIIMS, said, “Patients who are coming on time, getting diagnosed and treated are getting cured. The aggravation is being seen where people ignore symptoms like sputum in cough and chest pain.” He said H1N1 is not the only factor. “We are getting an equal number of H3N2 and Influenza B virus cases and after 2009 all these types of influenza have been seeing seasonal spurts,” he said.

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