Swine flu can turn more lethal in winter: Scientists

June 21st, 2009 - 2:31 pm ICT by IANS  

By Richa Sharma
New Delhi, June 21 (IANS) As the influenza A (H1N1) virus spreads across the globe, scientists in India are worried over the possibility of the second wave of the pandemic being more virulent.

“There is much more to this virus than we understand, and nobody knows how lethal it could be in future. Presently, the hot summer is at our rescue. During the rainy and winter season the virus is likely to spread in a big way,” senior epidemiologist Narendra Arora told IANS.

In India, so far 50 people have tested positive for swine flu, including five human-to-human transfer cases.

Arora, executive director of the Indian Clinical Epidemiology Network (IndiaCLEN), said surveillance is important to halt the mass spread of the virus and the country needs to prepare a database of the flu-affected people.

“Every season 10 percent of the population is affected with common flu, and if the number in the coming season rises to 25-30 percent then we need to worry. We have to have a database of the people affected with swine flu in the country to check any unusual break,” said Arora.

According to the health ministry, the present strain of the virus (H1N1) is a mild one and is reacting to the anti-flu medicine Tamiflu.

The ministry said there are chances that the second wave could be more potent.

Vineet Chawdhry, joint secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said: “It is altogether a new strain of virus and the infection is fairly moderate and treatable with the medicine. However, a second wave of the flu will be more potent and we are in the process of developing a vaccine for the flu.”

Actually it is the history of the flu pandemics that is making scientists believe that the second wave of the flu could be deadly.

“Flu pandemics historically come in waves, often getting worse as they go and there is a likelihood that swine flu may come back in a more severe form,” said Naresh Gupta, senior doctor at Maulana Azad Medical College in Delhi.

“The 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic was considered the worst of all time that left 40 million people dead. The Spanish flu started with a mild wave in March, followed by a deadly second wave later in the year,” said Gupta.

Shiv Lal, assistant scientist at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), said: “Pigs are an ideal mixing vessel for the virus and there is a possibility of the virus changing as it circulates. We have to watch the virus closely. Scientists across the globe are working to develop a vaccine for the flu that is likely to be effective during the second wave.”

The World Health Organisation has reported 44,287 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection from 89 countries as on June 17. There have been 180 deaths so far.

(Richa Sharma can be contacted at richa.s@ians.in)

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