Indian Scientists Isolate H1N1 Flu Virus
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29 May 2009
By Kounteya Sinha
New Delhi, India
India has successfully isolated the deadly H1N1 influenza virus from the nasal samples of the country’s only positive swine flu patient in Hyderabad.
In a breakthrough, scientists from the National Institute of Virology (Pune) have also managed to grow the virus in both cell lines and chicken eggs–the first step towards developing an effective vaccine against the H1N1 virus.
Influenza viruses require a host cell to grow or replicate. If the virus successfully grows in the egg, which scientists in India have managed to do, they will be able to make multiple copies of the virus in the lab and then use it to create a vaccine against H1N1, better diagnostic kits for H1N1 detection and also test for anti–viral resistance.
Speaking to TOI, NIV director Dr A C Mishra said by the first week of June, scientists will be able to accurately document all possible information about the virus that hit India –its transmissibility powers, virulence level, how similar is it to the virus that hit Mexico, Canada and US and its behavioural characteristics.
“We have successfully isolated the virus from the human sample because of which, by next week, we will know every characteristic of the virus. We have managed to grow the virus in chicken eggs–very difficult procedure. Only the virus that grows in eggs can be used to make a vaccine against H1N1,” Dr Mishra said.
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (Delhi), the only other bio–safety level III (BSL III) laboratory in India apart from NIV which has the infected human sample, is also trying to isolate the virus and “play with it”. “We will know by Friday if we have successfully managed to isolate the virus in our lab,” an official told TOI.
India confirmed its first H1N1 infection on May 16, when a 23–year–old student arrived in Hyderabad from the US with the infection.
Scientists say the virus can be found in infected samples collected from individuals within 24–48 hours of symptoms and before Tamilfu is administered.
Joint secretary in the health ministry Vineet Chawdhry said, “This is a new virus and we don’t know how it will behave in the subcontinent. Will it be more virulent and more transmissible among Indians? Research carried out by ICMR on this virus strain will try to answer these questions soon.”
Explaining how a vaccine against H1N1 will be made, Dr Marie Paule Kieny, WHO’s director of vaccine research, said, “We first need to isolate the virus and then adapt it to make a vaccine. We have to let the virus grow in eggs and then harvest the eggs. The virus will have to be killed because you don’t want to inject live virus in the population. The virus will then be mixed with various boosters, formulations and dosages before a candidate vaccine is tested on humans for safety and efficacy following which it is made ready for production.”
Meanwhile, H1N1 infections continued to spread across the globe. Around 48 countries have officially reported 13,398 cases of H1N1 infection, including 95 deaths.
India is continuing to screen passengers coming from affected countries in 21 international airports. Around 43,000 passengers were screened on May 28. One passenger at Delhi and two passengers at Kolkata were quarantined for showing symptoms of H1N1 infection. Around 221 doctors and 88 paramedics have been deployed to man 76 counters at the airports. Till now, India has screened around 11 lakh passengers. India has also tested samples of 115 people including the one which tested positive for H1N1. The rest were found negative for H1N1 infection.