Dangers and unknowns of the “ double mutant ” Indian strain


Publication: Tuesday, April 27, 2021 12:16

Following strains from the UK, Brazil and South Africa, a new variant of the coronavirus has alerted much of the world. This is the one already known as the Indian ‘double mutant’ – as it contains two mutations that have been linked to greater transmissibility.

Now, technically, this strain is not new, as it was first located in October 2020, when Indian health authorities recorded its detection in the global GISAID database. The problem lies in the way it spread: until just a week ago, as the scientific journal “Nature” reports, at least 20 countries reported cases of viral mutations. Among them, several Europeans, such as Italy, Belgium, Ireland or the United Kingdom.

Is this strain more contagious?

Although this is a variant that Indian authorities have been investigating since late last year, many unknowns remain as to its ability to be more contagious. In fact, to date, laboratories in India are trying to cultivate it to see how quickly it replicates, as well as whether the blood of those vaccinated can block the infection.

Precisely, this last point, according to “ Nature ”, is one of the most worrying: the “ double mutant ” has already been linked to greater transmissibility, as well as to the ability to escape protection. immunological before the virus (the latter, one of the biggest problems, because it could survive attacks from certain vaccines).

However, this is something that has yet to be proven. And more taking into account that the data provided by the Indian authorities are very scarce. In this sense, as Dr Jeremy Kamil, virologist at the University of Louisiana (USA) explains to the BBC, the samples do not allow us to confirm this greater transmissibility: precisely, as of April 23, 298 cases had been registered of this variant in the country, and 656 in the world.

We thus collect figures very far from those of the British variant, of which more than 384,000 cases have been reported, according to the expert. I mean, it would still be a long way from being so dangerous.

The data itself shared by the Indian government also suggests that more research is needed to reach clear conclusions. According to the director of the Indian Center for Disease Prevention, Sujeet Singh, the B.1.617 variant has infected 732 people in 13 states of the country; two of them, international travelers, while all the others were of Indian origin, the president said in a conference.

Is this strain resistant to vaccines?

While this was another of the possibilities that slipped out, it cannot be confirmed yet. On April 21, the Indian Research Council of India assured that its national vaccine, Covaxin, was effective against all variants, including the double mutant. However, little data has been thrown on this conclusion, beyond the fact that the researchers in charge of developing it had a scientific article awaiting review.

But in the same way that the Indian vaccine cannot be guaranteed to be 100% effective against the variants – there are already studies which indicate that some variants escape vaccines approved in Europe, like the one published by ‘Nature’ on March 11 – Nor is it confirmed that these mutations escape antidotes, so as Kamil told UK media, more research is still needed.

An undetectable variant in PCR tests

Another problem derived from B.1.617, in addition to the lack of follow-up, is its difficulty in being detected by PCR tests. According to the director of the Institute of Virology of India, Priya Abraham, it is possible that these kits do not register this variant.

Even in this case, it may be due to several factors, according to the expert: on the one hand, the possibility of performing the test 7 days after being infected with the disease (especially in the case of samples taken from the nasopharyngeal region, where PCRs are performed) may reduce the sensitivity of the test. That is to say lead to a false negative, as explained by the DownToEarth media, which collects the statements of Abraham.

Also, according to the expert, other possibilities must be considered, such as the fact that its transport “spoils” the enzymes on which the sample depends, or that the detection can be impaired in situations of extreme stress.

So what are the factors behind infections in India?

Given the lack of tests to detect the Indian variant, experts say the increase in infections in recent weeks, which has made the Asian country the epicenter of the disease globally, may be due to multiple factors. Todavía no se puede descartar la implicación de la cepa B.1.617 en el aumento de contagios, pero como apunta Ravi Gupta, profesor de microbiología en declaraciones at the BBC, la India cumple muchos requisitos para que la expansión del virus sea mayor que en otros the countries.

In this sense, Gupta refers to the large number of the country’s population and its high density, which can lead to the birth of new variants. But other circumstances must also be taken into account, such as the lack of preventive measures, the lack of a safe distance or the use of masks, and the lack of resources to conduct an adequate epidemiological response.

However, the data for this territory continues to be devastating. Despite the fact that India recorded the first drop in coronavirus cases in a week on Tuesday, with nearly 30,000 fewer infections than the day before, 2,771 deaths have been recorded in the past 24 hours. A figure which collapses the medical services of the country in all its states.

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