The H1N1 Swine Flu virus has mutated yet again, and now the disease isn’t seasonal anymore, experts have confirmed. The new strain, called Michigan, was discovered in India earlier this year. The California strain of the disease has existed since 2009.
This year, so far, 15,121 people in the country and 928 in the National Capital have fallen prey to the disease, which has claimed 736 lives.
In a telephonic interview with DNA, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), confirmed that the virus has mutated and will now affect people all round the year.
“I can confirm that the Swine Flu virus has mutated again and it is not a seasonal disease anymore. The biggest problem with the Swine Influenza virus is its tendency to mutate. This is the virus’s own survival mechanism to escape the human immune system and surpass the antibodies created by a human body. So, medicines and treatments for it are not long-lasting and need to be updated almost every year,” said Dr Swaminathan.
Keeping the recent mutations in mind, the government has now changed the Swine Flu drug category from Schedule ‘X’ to Schedule H1, which means that the drug will now be available at any registered chemist shop and can be procured with a doctor’s prescription. Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain and Dr Swaminathan have confirmed that the drug supply is sufficient to tackle any possible scenario.
Earlier, the virus attacked mostly in winters. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been modifying vaccines separately for Northern and Southern Hemisphere. But in India, due to its position along the equator and after the recent mutations, both types of vaccines are made available during different times.
“The internationally available vaccines contain three inactivated viral strains, the composition of which is reviewed every six months to ensure protection against the strains prevailing in each influenza season. The composition of vaccines is adjusted for the hemisphere in which it will be used. Thus, a vaccine available in one hemisphere may offer only partial protection against the infection in the other hemisphere,” the WHO website states.
Initially recorded in 2009 in Mexico, the disease was declared a pandemic by the WHO in 2010. India had already witnessed 42,592 cases and 3,000 deaths by the end if 3,000, as recorded. The death toll has gone up to 4,000 now.
“Most of those who succumbed were children, elderly, pregnant women or people with chronic lung disease. I strongly recommend that at least the vulnerable population, especially the health care workers, must take these vaccines to prevent the infection from spreading further,” Dr Swaminathan said.