Vaccine Center, Director Emory Vaccine Centre, Atlanta (US) and member of advisory committee for Department of Biotechnology (DBT) Rafi Ahmed on Tuesday said that Indian researchers, especially in government institutions, should, without any delay, ascertain whether the present swine flu virus has mutated or not.
The top scientist said that significant numbers of young adults in Indian States were dying due to H1N1 and it was time Indian researchers started exploring the reasons behind such a phenomenon.
“We saw this happening during Spanish Flu in 1918 when 50 to 100 million people died and young people were a majority. There is an urgent need to sequence the Indian swine flu virus to find whether there is a new strain or the old one. The mortality rate of young people due to H1N1 is worrisome and policy makers should take seriously,” Dr. Rafi Ahmed said, at a press conference here on Tuesday.
Dr. Ahmed said that the typical mortality rate due to influenza in the U.S. and Europe is 0.1 per cent and even during pandemics the fatality rate hovers between one and two per cent. “In India, we don’t know why fatalities are occurring in large numbers. There is an urgent need to sequence H1N1 for mutations and Government institutions should take the lead,” he said.
The vaccine specialist, who visited Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech on Tuesday, cautioned against under-reporting. “I would also advice public health experts and politicians not to under-report cases and deaths. Reporting an ailment accurately is important to develop surveillance programme in future. Politicians should understand that H1N1 is prevalent not because of them,” Dr. Ahmed said.
The immunology expert also felt that there was nothing wrong in having influenza vaccine in the national immunisation programme in India. “At this moment, it appears as if swine flu will become a year-long ailment to contend with for public heath experts in India. No harm in considering a trivalent influenza vaccine in the immunisation programme. Those who can afford the vaccine, they should go for it,” he advised.
In the long run, Indian researchers should seriously explore the possibility of developing universal vaccine for influenza mutations. “It would take another decade for researchers worldwide to come up with such a vaccine. I feel Indian researchers too should contribute towards developing such a vaccine,” he added. The chairman & managing director Krishna Ella also spoke.