Hyderabad: India should try to understand if the current H1N1 (swine flu) viral strain is different from that in other parts of the world, probe reasons for its spurt and focus on virus sequencing to know more about the influenza, a US-based immunology expert Tuesday said.
"The first question is: are swine flu infections here due to a strain of virus that's different from other parts of the world. The Indian scientists can do it very quickly by sequencing the virus. That information can be generated within a few weeks," Atlanta's Emory Vaccine Centre Director Dr Rafi Ahmed told reporters here.
"It's important to find out why there is an increase in incidence of H1N1 (swine flu) infection in India. The mortality in young children seems to be high. One needs to find out is this a different (virus) strain from the one which is in other parts of the world. That could be an important information. It is very important to get the sequence of the virus to controlling the influenza strain," he said.
"This will be an important information not only for the Indian health officials and scientists to understand what's going on, but also for the world, because if it turns out that a different strain has emerged which has some global implications, the new strain could also spread to other places," Ahmed said.
It is important to figure that out. It can be done easily through geno-typing the swine flu virus that is circulating in India. It's an opportunity and a wake up call for scientists and health officials in India, he said.
There should be an effort towards public awareness to prevent more infections. But, in the long run there is a need to do research on influenza and to understand that the virus is circulating in India and to do more increased analysis and in-depth study to understand the immune responses on the Indian population, he said.
Ahmed further said that the world is moving towards developing a 'universal vaccine' for influenza that protects against multiple viral sub-types.
"The idea is to produce a universal vaccine that would give a long lasting and broad protective immunity against many different (viral) strains, not only the ones which are currently in circulation but also ones that might emerge later," the scientist said.
"This is a very big goal and a challenging thing to do. There are lot of efforts going on in many different laboratories and groups in the US and Europe. The WHO has endorsed this effort and they strongly believe that there should be efforts worldwide to produce an improved universal vaccine, the one that we would not have to take every year and that protects us from different viral strains," he said.
It would be wonderful if there are also efforts in India towards developing a universal flu vaccine, he said.
"This has long been the goal of immunologists working to overcome the requirement for a new vaccine during each flu season and the need for a rapid response to potentially dangerous mutations," he said.
On the progress regarding a universal vaccine, he said, "The process is going on...It's at a very early stage of pre-clinical data. I think even if we don't have a perfect universal vaccine, we certainly could use a better influenza vaccine, which would be a step forward."
The flu vaccine is currently available against swine flu, which is part of trivalent vaccine that's used in many parts of the world and it is safe, he said.
"I strongly recommend that this vaccine should be taken which will help in the control of the current infection going on in India. The degree of protection is in the 20 to 50 per cent range. Despite this, I would strongly recommend that physicians and the government here encourage the population to take the vaccine," Ahmed said.
"The cost and other issues are there but still it would be highly beneficial to get vaccinated," he said.