A total of 771 mutant variants of COVID-19 have been detected in India with many being deemed a “double-mutant”. While fears of external strains entering the country have been of great concern in recent weeks, the new strain is thought to have originated in India.
COVID-19 cases are currently surging in India. As Health Issues India recently reported “currently, following an elongated period of declining COVID-19 cases, and the plateau at a low point, cases are again beginning to rise. Concerningly, the increase in cases is far more rapid compared to the initial wave…the rise in cases can be attributed to a small number of areas, indicating concentrated outbreaks with high case numbers. Six states contributed 84.49 percent of the current outbreak cases. These states are Maharashtra, Punjab, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.”
A Union Government statement claims that the double-mutant strain has “not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish a direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states.”
“The analysis of samples from Maharashtra has revealed that compared to December 2020, there has been an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations. Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity. These mutations have been found in about fifteen-twenty percent of samples and do not match any previously catalogued variants of concern (VOCs),” said the Indian SARS-CoV-2 [severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2] Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) in a statement.
Mutations, such as that of the so-called UK or Brazil variants have been a cause for concern due to the observed increase in infection rate associated with the variants. Mutations arise naturally as a virus or bacteria replicates. Typically these mutations in the genetic code have no effect, in some cases they can even interfere with important functions of the virus and render the resultant virus as inviable. In some rare cases these mutations can increase the pathogenicity of the virus by making them harder to detect by the immune system or in some cases more lethal.
The COVID-19 double-mutant strain is of particular concern as the mutations had not previously been catalogued. Though appearing in small numbers compared to the overall volume of cases currently plaguing India, any indication of new strains spreading among the population is of dire concern.
With the rate of infection now rising rapidly in India, it is likely that more mutant strains will arise over time. This gives rise to fears that eventually strains may develop that render the currently used vaccines ineffective.