A new coronavirus ‘double mutant’ covid variant. has been discovered from specimens obtained in India this month.
Officials are testing if the variant, where two modifications come together in the same virus, may be more infectious or slight impacted by vaccines.
Some 10,787 specimens from 18 Indian states also showed up 771 cases of known variants – 736 of the UK, 34 of the South African and one Brazilian.
Officials say the variants are not connected to a spike in cases in India.
India reported 47,262 cases and 275 deaths on Wednesday – the sharpest daily rise this year.
The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a group of 10 national laboratories under India’s health ministry, tune through the genomic sequencing on the latest specimens. Genomic sequencing is a testing process to map the entire genetic code of an organism in this case, the virus.
The genetic code of the virus works like its instruction manual. Mutations in viruses are common but most of them are unimportant and do not cause any change in its ability to transmit or cause significant infection. But some mutations, like the ones in the UK or South Africa variant lineages, can make the virus more infectious and in some cases even deadlier.
Virologist Shahid Jameel explained that a “double mutation in key areas of the virus’s spike protein may increase these threats and allow the virus to escape the immune system”.
The spike protein is the part of the virus that it uses to puncture human cells.
The government said that an inspection of the samples obtained from India’s western Maharashtra state showed “an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations” compared with December last year.
“Such [double] mutations grant immune escape and boosted infection,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Dr Jameel added that “there may be a separate lineage developing in India with the L452R and E484Q mutations coming together”.
Should we worry about double mutants?
Mutations in the spike gene can make the virus naturally “better” at poisoning people or can help the virus to escape from vaccines.
This means if the virus mutates in the “right way”, it can reinfect someone who has already recovered from Covid-19.
But scientists say reinfections will be very mild compared to primary infections in people who are vaccinated or who recovered already from an earlier case of Covid-19.
But if the virus can use reinfection to spread, then it would be “penetrating” herd immunity, says Dr. Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport. (Herd immunity happens when a huge part of a community becomes resistant to disease through vaccination or the mass spread of the disease.)
This puts the most vulnerable people at risk of the severe disease since the virus can move through the crow to catch up with them.
He says, unlike some other variants, India’s new double variant is not likely to be more deadly or more inherently transmissible, but that more data is needed to be sure.
Read more about the risks of India’s new Covid-19 variant
The Indian government denies that the rise in cases is linked to the mutations.
“Though VOCs [variants of concern] and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been observed in numbers sufficient to either establish a direct relationship or illustrate the rapid increase in cases in some countries,” the health ministry said.
The recent report comes after several professionals had asked the government to step up genome sequencing efforts.
“We need to constantly monitor and make sure none of the variants of concern are spreading in the population. The fact that it is not happening now doesn’t mean it will not occur in the future. And we have to make sure that we get the evidence earlier enough,” Dr. Jameel told the BBC’s Soutik Biswas earlier this month.
India became the 5th country in the world to sequence the genome of the novel coronavirus after isolating it from some of the first cases recorded in January last year.
More than 11.7 million cases and 160,000 deaths later, efforts are continuing to recognize mutations.
The latest storm – which began this month – comes during what some experts have called a “delicate phase” for India – the healthcare system is already exhausted from a year-long battle against the coronavirus.
Countries have already begun re-introducing limitations, enclosing curfews and intermittent lockdowns.
Two major cities, Delhi and Mumbai, have also order randomized immediate examinations at airports, railway stations,s and crowded areas such as shopping malls.
Why could the Indian variant become dangerous?
The Indian variant consists of 2 mutations on the spike genome of the virus.
A spike protein permits a scourge to enter the body and infect it. The virus will then unfold quickly through the body, if it escapes any antibodies within the system or those developed as a result of an immunizing agent or, certainly, if there aren’t any antibodies.
Experts say there’s a risk that folks who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection, or those that are vaccinated, might not be as resilient against this new variant as they will be against alternative types of the virus.
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