H1N1 now part of seasonal flu: NIV head
At National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune, scientists have expressed hope that director Dr A C Mishra set to retire on Friday gets an extension. There are indications of Mishra — NIV saw an eventful decade with Mishra and his team making pathbreaking research and diagnosing emerging viral infections like SARS, chandipura, H5N1 (bird flu) and H1N1 (swine flu) — being reappointed.
Mishra’s successor has not been named so far and once he retires on Friday, deputy director Dr Vidya Arankalle will officiate as director. According to highly placed sources, the Director-General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)’s office is likely to reappoint Mishra.
When contacted, Mishra told The Indian Express that he led the NIV in a decade that saw new viruses emerging, and added that dealing with the swine flu pandemic right in Pune, its epicentre in the country, was an experience he cannot forget.
“It is a big accomplishment for the institute that has been able to detect and diagnose these new infections, especially as the team worked 24×7 during the swine flu pandemic,” said Mishra.
The manner in which samples were tested and correct diagnosis was provided helped public health authorities to deal with the situation and also allay anxiety related to increasing number of swine flu deaths during the pandemic in 2009-10.
Mishra, who has 42 years of service with 10 years as Director of NIV, admitted that H1N1 transmission is still under way with a few cases emerging recently in Mumbai but added that H1N1 virus had now become part of the seasonal influenza.
Apart from being able to diagnose diseases, NIV has been able to set up a state-of-the-art Bio Safety Level-4 laboratory, which will house dangerous pathogens. The BSL-4 lab set up at NIV’s Microbial Containment Centre in Pashan at a cost of Rs 55 crore will be commissioned soon. Highly infectious pathogenic agents of diseases like ebola, anthrax, lassa, haemorrhagic fever and small pox (variola virus) will be stored at the BSL-4 lab, a facility akin to a heavily guarded bank vault, to conduct tests, Mishra said.
During his tenure, NIV was also able to introduce a unique masters course in virology, the only one in the country. “After this course, our students have been picked up by international agencies and other institutions.”
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