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Delta plus: How worried should we be?

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The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has recognised the Delta plus variant as one of concern, with more than forty cases identified.

The Delta plus variant (B.1.617.2) is spreading in the country, the Ministry said. More than forty cases have been confirmed across three states, those being Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. The statement by the Ministry read in part “this variant has been observed sporadically in Maharashtra, Kerala, and Madhya Pradesh, with around forty cases identified so far and no significant increase in prevalence…these States have been advised for strengthening surveillance and appropriate public health measures.” 

The statement further read, “the Spike protein aids the virus to gain receptor-mediated entry into human cells. K417N corresponds to the change of amino acid lysine (K) to asparagine (N) at the 417th position of the spike protein. There are other Delta plus variants with other mutations. AY.1 is the most well-known, but these are not identical. A second clade found in sequences uploaded to GISAID from the USA is now designated AY.2, but is not seen in India yet.” 

State officials have indicated that the Delta plus variant appears to be more transmissible than the original Delta variant, which has led to concerns in Africa, Europe (where it was first identified), and North America. As well as India, the variant has been detected in China, Japan, Nepal, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. However, scientists have said it is too early to tell regarding the variant’s transmissibility or that it leads to more severe disease. 

According to virologist Dr Gagandeep Kang, quoted by BBC News, “there is no data yet to support the variant of concern claim. You need biological and clinical information in order to consider whether it is truly a variant of concern. You need to study a few hundred patients who are sick with this condition and variant and find out whether they are at greater risk of greater disease than the ancestral variant.”

Dr Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport also quoted by BBC News, said “I would keep calm. I don’t think India or anyone else in the world has released or accumulated enough data to distinguish the risk from the so-called Delta plus as being more dangerous or concerning than the original Delta variant.” 

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