India - Covid-19

Covid 'double mutant' strain detected in India as cases spike

Health workers gather in front of the government run Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital in Delhi, India to get a Covid-19 inoculation.
Health workers gather in front of the government run Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital in Delhi, India to get a Covid-19 inoculation. © Ritik Jain

A new double mutant variant of the coronavirus has been detected in India, as the country has recorded an alarming surge in daily Covid-19 cases. 

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India’s health ministry is concerned over the latest wave of Covid-19 infections – in particular with the double mutant variant of coronavirus detected in several states.

Authorities said analysis of samples collected from the western state of Maharashtra showed "an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations" compared with December last year.

"Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity," the health ministry said in a statement. “These mutations have been found in about 15 to 20 percent of samples and do not match any previously catalogued variants of concern (VOCs).”

Mutations meet

A 'double mutation' is when two mutated strains of a virus come together to form a third strain. The one reported in India is the result of the E484Q and L452R strains combining.

The L452R strain is found in California in the United States and the E484Q strain is indigenous.

India recorded 62,258 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, of which 36,902 or 60 percent is from Maharashtra, the biggest single-day jump since 16 October last year, taking the total Covid caseload to over 11.9 million cases.

Maharashtra, the state with the highest number of total infections, is to impose a night curfew from Sunday. 

Evading immune system

“Detection of a variant virus is a matter of interest or of concern if the variant has some special characteristics,” said Dr Rakesh Agarwal, director of the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research.

“These special characteristics of a variant could be an increased risk of transmission, causing more severe disease, failure of detection by the usual tests, or a higher risk of infection after prior infection or vaccination,” Agarwal added.

Some scientists believe that a double mutation in key areas of the virus's spike protein may increase these risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system.

So far, three variants of concern have been detected in India. These had been first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, respectively, and have been identified in several countries globally.

These were of concern primarily because they had an increased potential for spread from one person to another. Studies have shown these variants were not associated with more severe disease or a higher risk of death. 

Some studies show that the variant is evolving and a dozen such samples were also found in New Delhi, which has seen a steady rise in infections over the last few days.

 

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