India continues to experience a devastating rise in COVID-19 infections due to a new double mutant variant of SARS-COV-2, the Coronavirus which causes COVID-19 disease.
The new strain has fueled India’s ongoing deadly wave of Coronavirus that has not only overwhelmed the country’s hospitals and crematoriums but also made it the second most affected country in the world.
Here is all you need to about the double mutant variant of Coronavirus that emerged from India.
How did the strain emerge?
Viruses mutate all the time. Some mutations weaken the virus while others make it more infectious. The mutated strain of Coronavirus was first found in the western state of Maharashtra in October 2020 and has been named B.1.617.
However, Indian Health Ministry continuously downplayed the presence of the double mutant strain in the country since it was first reported last year and only acknowledged its presence at the end of March this year.
The double mutant Indian variant of Coronavirus carries two mutations – L452R and E484Q- which have been separately reported previously in other strains but never together in one strain.
The L452R mutation has the potential to increase the binding power of the spike protein of Coronavirus with human cells, making it much more transmissible, while the E484Q mutation has been found to reduce the effectiveness of antibodies generated by a vaccine or a previous infection of COVID-19.
Is the double mutant variant responsible for India’s record infections?
According to genome sequencing of B.1.617 provided by GISAID, a global primary source that provides open access to genomic data of influenza viruses and the Coronavirus, the double mutant strain is responsible for India’s most COVID-19 infections in the recent weeks.
B.1.617 variant accounts for more than 60% of the total cases in many districts of Maharashtra state that is at the center of the current wave of Coronavirus.
The double mutant variant has been found in nearly a dozen Indian states. The number of states reporting the B.1.617 variant is only going to increase as two critical mutations have made it to transmit rapidly and escape antibodies from previous COVID-19 infection.
Is the double mutant virus more deadly than other strains?
Although scientists are still investigating the features of the double mutant strain, the L452R mutation has been found to increase the virus’s transmission by 20% and reduce the antibodies’ efficacy by 50%.
Coronavirus variants reported in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil have proven to be worrisome strains for healthcare authorities around the world. So far, studies have confirmed that only these strains are more contagious and deadly.
However, medical experts have said that B.1.617 variant has all the features of a very dangerous virus, adding that healthcare authorities must do all to contain its spread.
Are vaccines effective against it?
In the absence of sufficient data, it is difficult to answer this. However, pharmaceutical companies around the world are testing whether the Coronavirus strains, including the B.1.617, are capable of immune escape or not.
Immune escape is known as the ability of the virus to evade the immune response of the human body. This means that the antibodies developed after vaccination or previous infection may not protect a person from getting infected.
If the new double mutant variant is capable of immune escape, this would have widespread repercussions for vaccination programs across the world.
Have other countries reported the double mutant strain?
The strain B.1.617 has been found outside India as more than 10 countries including the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand have reported cases of the double mutant variant.
Several countries including Pakistan have suspended all sorts of travel from India in a bid to prevent the transmission of the highly infectious B.1.617.