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India has a double mutant variant of Covid. Should we be concerned? | India News

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As the daily count of Covid-19 infections in India rises to a record of more than 200,000 cases for three consecutive days, public health experts worry that a new, possibly more virulent variant of the coronavirus may be undergoing the crowded nation of more than 1.3 billion people.
The new variant, which has the so-called double mutation, is believed to be fueling India’s deadliest new wave of infections that has made it the second-worst-hit country in the world, overtaking Brazil, and has already begun to overwhelm its hospitals. and crematoria. The Asian nation has reported more than 14.5 million Covid cases so far and more than 175,600 deaths.
“This is a variant of interest that we are following,” Maria Van Kerkhove, World Health Organization Lead Technical Director on Covid, told reporters on Friday. “Having two of these mutations, which have been seen in other variants around the world, is concerning,” he said, adding that there was a similarity to mutations that increase transmission and reduce neutralization, possibly stunting the ability of vaccines. to slow them down.

The new strain underscores the insidious nature of viruses and threatens to thwart containment efforts in India, despite strict measures such as the world’s largest shutdown last year. An explosive outbreak in India risks undoing a hard-won victory over the pathogen for others as well, especially since this strain has now jumped to at least 10 other countries.
This is what we know so far:
How did the “double mutation” variant come about?
The new variant, called B.1.617, was initially detected in India with two mutations: E484Q and L452R. It was first reported late last year by a scientist in India and more details were presented to the WHO on Monday, according to Van Kerkhove.
Viruses mutate all the time, as part of evolutionary biology. Some mutations weaken the virus, while others can make it stronger, allowing it to proliferate faster or cause more infections.
The Indian Ministry of Health first recognized the presence of such a “double mutant” in late March, but has since downplayed it. While it is a variant of interest, “it has not been marked as a ‘variant of concern’ to say that it is more lethal or more infectious,” Aparna Mukherjee, a scientist with the Indian Council of Medical Research, who works under the Ministry of Health of the nation, he told Bloomberg TV on Friday.
The double mutation has been found in several countries including Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Namibia, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States, according to an April 16 statement from the Indian government. “A higher transmissibility of this variant has not yet been established,” he said.
Is it causing the record rise in infections in India?
Genome sequencing indicates that the variant is a possible culprit, although the Indian government has not confirmed this.
The average prevalence of the variant rose to 52% of samples sequenced in April from almost nothing in January, according to the tracker website outbreak.info, which uses data from the global GISAID repository.
In some districts of the state of Maharashtra, home to the nation’s financial center, Mumbai and the epicenter of the current wave that is currently under lockdown rules, the prevalence of this variant was more than 60%, according to Anurag Agrawal, director of the state . The genomics institute of the Scientific and Industrial Research Council that performs the sequencing. B.1.617 was present in samples from about 10 states in India and, although the percentage may vary, it was expected to increase as “it has two critical mutations that make it more likely to be transmitted and escape previous immunity.” Agrawal said.
Both mutations are known to decrease, but do not completely eliminate, the binding of antibodies created by infection and vaccination, according to Jesse Bloom, associate professor of genome sciences and microbiology at the University of Washington.
“Mutations at the E484 and L452 sites have been observed separately, but this is the first major viral lineage to combine the two,” said Bloom. “I think it is important to control this new viral variant.”

“We did the math; we believe that much of the increase in breeding numbers can be explained by these mutations,” Nithya Balasubramanian, head of health research at Bernstein India, told Bloomberg TV this week. “So yeah, mutations are a big concern.”
After being complacent in mapping virus genomes in recent months (India sequenced less than 1% of positive samples until last month) the country is now struggling to cover lost ground. “We are trying to do at least 5% of the samples that are there,” said ICMR’s Mukherjee.
“It appears to be spreading faster than pre-existing variants,” said Rakesh Mishra, director of the Hyderabad-based Center for Cell and Molecular Biology, another Indian lab that performs genome sequencing of Covid samples. “Sooner or later, it will prevail across the country, given the way it is spreading.”
Found outside of India?
This variant has been detected in at least 10 other countries, including the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand, according to the situation report on outbreak.info.
As of April 16, 408 sequences have been detected in the B.1.617 lineage, of which 265 were found in India, the report shows. A UK government surveillance report said it has found 77 cases in England and Scotland so far, designating it as a “Variant under investigation”.
New Zealand has temporarily suspended the arrivals of its citizens and residents from India due to the increase in the number returning with Covid. Brazil was also shunned as a Covid super-spreader by its neighbors who were nervous about the virus strain next door.
India’s second wave, given its size and rapid pace, will worry other nations that have almost managed their own outbreaks after weeks of devastating lockdowns on the economy.
Is it more deadly than other variants that exist?
Researchers are still trying to find out. The characteristics of the double mutant variant are under investigation, but the L452R mutation is well characterized in US studies, according to Agrawal. It increases viral transmission by about 20% and reduces the effectiveness of antibodies by more than 50%, he said.

Globally, three worrying variants that have emerged so far in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have caused particular concern. Studies suggest that they are more contagious and some evidence suggests that one of them is more deadly while another causes reinfections.
This double mutant strain, first found in India, has started to worry virologists around the world.
“Variant B.1.617 has all the hallmarks of a very dangerous virus,” William A. Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor, wrote in Forbes on April 12. “We must do everything possible to identify its spread and to contain it.”
Do vaccines work against you?
It’s hard to know for sure without the right data and research. India is testing whether the new variants, including B.1.617, are capable of “escaping immune or not,” according to ICMR’s Mukherjee.
Immune escape refers to the ability of a pathogen to evade the immune response of the human body. This means that antibodies created after vaccination or a previous infection may not protect a person from becoming infected. If the new Indian variant exhibits “immune escape” behavior, this would have profound ramifications for India’s vaccination program, which has recovered after a slow start and delivers nearly 120 million doses so far.
India has currently licensed three vaccines. Two of them are already in use, while the third, Russia’s Sputnik V, was approved this week. India also accelerated the approval of foreign vaccines this week. All of these efforts run the risk of being compromised if injections prove to be less effective against this double mutation variant.
“It is one of the ones that is on our radar and by doing so it means that it is on the radar of people all over the world,” Van Kerkhove said.

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