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Expert urges India to sequence swine flu virus

Hyderabad: With swine flu (H1N1) claiming over 800 lives in India this year, a world-renowned scientist in viral pathogenesis has called for the need to sequencing the circulating strains in the country to find out if the virus is mutated.

Voicing concern over high mortality rate, Rafi Ahmed, director, Emory Vaccine Center in US' Atlanta, has also called for screening the samples for H3N2 and influenza type B besides H1N1 virus.

Swine Flu virus
Representational picture

Talking to reporters here Tuesday, he has also recommended that instead of the current monovalent vaccine which targets only H1N1, India should go for a trivalent vaccine to provide protection from H2N3 and type B as well.

Ahmed, who is also on the advisory committee of the Indian government's department of biotechnology, also suggested that India contribute to global efforts for development of an improved flu vaccine, which can provide protection from previous, current and even future strains.

He said the highest priority of public health officials and scientists in India should be to sequence the virus circulating here. "They should find out whether this virus mutated further. If there is a different pandemic H1N1 being circulated in India, it may have global implications," he said.

"It is not inconceivable," he replied when asked if all three viruses can attack a person simultaneously.

Ahmed said the US reported more influenza cases this year than in the past and majority of them were H3N2. "Both H1N1 and H3N2 are dangerous with mortality rate of 1 to 2 percent in case of pandemic strain," he said.

"When you are doing PCR test to confirm H1N1 in people with influenza like symptoms, you should also find out how many are H3N2 and how many are B," he said.

The scientist, who is already working on development of an improved universal vaccine, visited vaccine-maker Bharat Biotech here and agreed to share information and collaborate.

He said the current available vaccine has efficacy of only 20 to 50 percent and needs to be taken every year as it has to match circulating strain.

The expert said an improved vaccine, which is likely to be developed in 10 years, would provide wider coverage and people would need to take it once in five or 10 years.

Bharat Biotech CMD Krishna Ella said Ella Foundation had collected samples in Hyderabad and was trying to identify the strains.

He said the company was working on producing swine flu vaccine in bulk and was in talks with the central government.

It normally takes three months to manufacture a vaccine, which can be used for one year.

"To deal with outbreaks and have a swift turnaround time, Bharat Biotech plans to build an inventory of bulk vaccine so that the response time going forward is reduced to a large extent," he said.

The firm had to destroy its swine flu vaccine stocks earlier because of poor demand and short shelf-life of the product.

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