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New, Possibly Dangerous H1N1 Strain Concerns Scientists

Mar 11, 2015 06:16 PM EDT
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A new, possibly even more dangerous strain of H1N1, commonly known as the swine flu, is currently circulating in India and starting to concern scientists.

Since December, an outbreak of swine flu in India has killed more than 1,200 people, and now that a newly identified strain is out, the fear is that many more will suffer because of it.

"We're really caught between a rock and a hard place, with little information and a lot of misinformation," Ram Sasisekharan, the study's senior author, said in a statement. "When you do real-time surveillance, get organized, and deposit these sequences, then you can come up with a better strategy to respond to the virus."

It was previously believed that the H1N1 strain has not changed since it first emerged in 2009; however, these findings suggest otherwise. Other influenza variants have been detected before, but only two strains from India have been deposited into publicly available influenza databases. This makes it difficult to determine exactly which strain is causing the new outbreak, and how it differs from prior strains.

This newest strain has mutations in the hemagglutinin protein, which are known to make the virus more virulent. Hemagglutinin binds to glycan receptors found on the surface of respiratory cells, and the strength of that binding determines how effectively the virus can infect those cells.

Specifically, the mutations are in an amino acid position called D225, which has been linked with increased disease severity, and in the T200A position, which allows hemagglutinin to bind more strongly to glycan receptors, making the virus more infectious.

Hopefully by better understanding new strains researchers can develop more effective treatments.

"The goal is to get a clearer picture of the strains that are circulating and therefore anticipate the right kind of a vaccine strategy for 2016," Sasisekharan said.

The results were published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

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