The double mutations hold the potency to overcome the immunity developed by natural infection or vaccines and cause sickness. Thus, the new and faster-spreading strain may force the government to put
and add to the pressure on India’s health infrastructure.
‘Double mutant strain – a new and highly infectious strain of coronavirus, currently presents a grave concern towards increased infectivity in India. However, the surge in COVID-19 cases in some states lacks sufficient data to correlate their direct relationship with this new double mutant variant (E484Q and L452R) detected in the country.’
“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 15-20% of samples and do not match any previously catalogued variants of concern, or VOCs (Variants of Concerns) (UK strain, South Africa variant and Brazil variant found in India). These have been categorized as VOCs but require the same epidemiological and public health response of ‘increased testing, comprehensive tracking of close contacts, prompt isolation of positive cases and contacts as well as treatment as per National Treatment Protocol by the States/UTs,” says the health ministry.
What is ‘Double Mutation’?
Mutations are generally defined as any change that occurs in the DNA sequence due to any error or influence of environmental factors. Viruses commonly exhibit insignificant mutation that does not cause any change in their ability to transmit or cause infections.
‘Double mutation’ occurs when two mutated strains of a virus combine to form a third strain.
Spiking cases in India reported as a result of the E484Q and L452R strains demonstrate a variant for double mutation.
The new mutant strain possesses the capacity to escape from the body’s immune system and become resistant to antibodies and even vaccines, thereby making it deadlier than any other strain.
Analyzing and Genome Sequencing of Double Mutation
Genome sequencing and analysis of circulating COVID-19 viruses and correlating epidemiological trends with genomic variants have been carried out by a group of 10 national laboratories established by the health ministry in December, the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG).
“A total of 771 variants have been found from more than 10,000 samples being subject to genome sequencing. The variants have been found in 18 states and Union territories, including 62 cases of a mutant variant in Maharashtra. A total of 736 cases of UK strain, 34 South Africa strains, and one Brazil variant have been traced so far in the country. So far, there is no established linkage between the recent surge in cases and mutation. There are many reasons for the surge—wherever the pool of susceptible population is bigger, and when they lower the guard by not following COVID- appropriate behaviour; they are prone to infection. It may also be noticed that the current SARS-COV-2 variants detected in the community have been prevalent for 6-8 months,” says Sujeet Kumar Singh, Director, National Centre for Disease Control.
Moreover, these variants of viruses are a natural phenomenon that may be found in all countries. The sequencing of 2,032 virus samples from all 14 districts of Kerala by INSACOG has also detected the N440K variant, associated with ‘immune escape’ in 123 samples from 11 districts.
A similar variant was reported in 33% of samples from Andhra Pradesh and in 53 of 104 samples from Telangana. As a result, India witnesses 59,118 new coronavirus infections in a day with the rapid spread of the mutant strain.
Variants of Concerns on Mutant Strain
The alarming variants of concerns also consider the efficacy of the available vaccines against these strains. As indicated by the genome sequencing, the new mutant strain is shown to hamper the ability of vaccines in rendering the required immunity to protect against the severe form of the disease.
Health officials state the necessity of the current vaccine in acting against the new strains as well. It is reported that vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna have demonstrated better efficacy rates against the new strains. However, more studies are needed to understand the relationship between the treatments and viral strains.
Tips to Slow the Spread of COVID-19