Longer recovery time from flu is not a virus mutation, say Mumbai doctors

Doctors in the city have observed that many patients diagnosed with influenza are taking an unusually long time to recover; however, experts have dismissed the possibility of a virus mutation

After an unexpectedly long monsoon season this year, doctors in the city are stumped by the increasing number of patients diagnosed with influenza or flu, as many of the patients are taking an unusually long time to recover from symptoms of high fever, cough, cold and body aches. However, since none of the patients have tested positive for any monsoon-related diseases, it has raised a red flag about the possibility of a virus mutation.

Doctors say that while patients are taking more time to recover from influenza, they are responding to symptomatic treatment, ruling out the possibility of a mutation. Representation pic/Thinkstock

While physicians are baffled about the change in presentation of the influenza virus this year, experts on infectious diseases have dismissed the possibility of a mutation, saying that unless PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and genetic tests are conducted, along with a detailed mutation study, the change in behaviour of the virus cannot be attributed to a mutation.

Speaking to mid-day, Dr Vikrant Shah, senior physician at Joy Hospital in Chembur, said, “Last month we treated around 50 patients with influenza symptoms in the Out Patient Department (OPD), out of which 20 per cent had to be admitted. All of them complained of high fever, cold, cough and body aches, which usually does not take more than a week to recover from. However, the virus is presenting itself in an unusual manner, and patients are taking more than 10 days to recover. All their blood tests for dengue, malaria and typhoid have come back negative.”

However, Dr Shah said that the virus cannot be declared a mutation, “The platelet and WBC count is normal; only they are taking an unusually long time to recover, and complaining of fatigue after recovery. While it cannot be called a mutation, there is a change in the clinical presentation of the virus. Genetic testing and PCR, which is not widely available in India, should be conducted to understand the cause behind it.”

Dr Pradip Shah, physician at Fortis Hospital, also agreed about the increase in the number of patients diagnosed with influenza this year who are taking a longer time to respond to treatment against the virus, which the body has to build immunity against.

“I had at least five patients whom I suspected had a viral mutation, but after treating them symptomatically for almost two weeks, they started responding to the treatment. Only one had to be admitted, but the cause behind the prolonged recovery time is currently unknown.”

According to Dr Abhay Chaudhary, director of Haffkine Institute in Parel, minor changes in the influenza and flu virus are nothing new. “The virus shows minor changes every year; however, it usually does not affect the patients adversely, and there is no requirement for a viral diagnosis. A respiratory virus anyway takes around a week, and antiviral is not used to treat common flu.”

Dr Om Srivastav, head of infectious diseases at Jaslok Hospital, said, “The nature of influenza virus has perceptibly changed, as it is taking longer for patients to recover. In addition, there are other viruses that we don’t routinely test for; both are reasons for concern.”

Case Study
26-year-old Neha (name changed) has been suffering from severe cold, cough and sore throat since last week. The media professional says that despite taking treatment for her symptoms, she has not been able to recover from the disease yet. “My cough and cold has been the same for the last one week, and though I am taking treatment from my family doctor, the symptoms have not subsided till now.”

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