Last Updated on 2021-05-05 , 4:42 pm
Remember when we all rejoiced when the COVID-19 vaccines were approved?
We were all like, Aw hell yeah! Be right back, gonna travel the world, bye!
Turns out, corona is one persistent virus that keeps on mutating.
You might want to watch this video to the end to understand why virus mutate:
With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in India, and the subsequent cutting of travel ties with India, looks like you’re gonna have to add India to your can’t᠆travel᠆to list, folks.
Along with this surge of cases in India also comes greater attention paid to the new COVID-19 mutant strain found in India, aka the “double mutant” strain which everyone’s been clamouring to learn more about.
If you’re like me and just want information on the new strain without all the confusing scientific jargon, here are 10 facts about the double mutant strain that’s gaining traction in India.
How many mutations does this new strain have?
I know what you’re going to say: lol, where does she think the name “double mutant” comes from. Two, duh!
Actually, this new strain (also called the B.1.617 variant) actually carries several other mutations, not just two. It’s only been called a “double mutant” because out of all the mutations it carries, there’s really only two key mutations that we should pay attention to.
In fact, Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at the University of Cambridge, Sharon Peacock, says that this new variant strain has 13 mutations.
What are these two key mutations?
The first, the L452R mutation, increases the speed of and opportunities for transmission by about 20%, according to Dr Anurag Agrawal, the director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) in India. It also reduces the success rate of the antibodies released in fighting off the virus by about 50%.
For the record, antibodies are what your immune system uses to “battle” the virus. So in essence, this mutation could reduce the effectiveness of your body’s immune response to covid—as if it wasn’t weak enough before.
You can watch this video to the end to know more about vaccines and how it triggers the immune response:
The second mutation, termed the E484Q mutation, causes stronger cell-binding and immune-evasion properties.
Basically, imagine getting an immunity booster shot, except that the shot is given to the virus instead of you, so it becomes stronger and more invincible.
When was the ‘double mutant’ first detected?
On GISAID, an open-access database that allows for tracking of COVID-19 variants, the first B.1.617 variant was recorded back on 5 October 2020.
Where has it been detected so far?
The new variant strain was first detected in India. Currently, this double mutant strain has already been found in at least 16 countries.
On 15 April, Public Health England (PHE) reported that 77 cases of the variant were found, with 73 cases identified in England and the other four in Scotland.
As of when this was written, according to a situational report on outbreak.info, 656 cases belonging to the B.1.617 lineage have been found, of which 298 cases come from India.
Double mutations not rare
Reported by BBC, Virologist Dr Jeremy Kamil of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport says that it is “extremely common” to have several mutations within a single strain.
GISAID actually reflects 43 other viruses that carry both the L452R and E484Q mutations found in the B.1.617 strain.
Suspected to be behind India’s second wave?
Many have attributed India’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases to the new double mutant strain. However at this point in time, without any concrete studies being concluded, the role of this variant in India’s surge of cases is at most speculative, without any scientific evidence.
In fact, though the new double mutant strain has been acknowledged by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the government has yet to label the B.1.617 strain as a variant of concern, even going so far as to point out that it hasn’t been scientifically proven that this new strain has a higher viral transmission.
What studies have been conducted?
Can this new strain cause reinfection? Can it beat vaccine-induced immunity? Does it cause greater mortality? What else do we know?
We don’t know much, really.
Being a relatively new discovery, studies on the new variant are still ongoing. The Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) located in Hyderabad, India, is currently carrying out studies on it. However, the results of the study are not expected for another two weeks, according to The Straits Times.
Currently, what we have (and what will follow in this article) is only speculation by various infectious disease experts and scientists.
Effect on: vaccine-induced immunity
In the same article by The Straits Times, when questioned about the double mutant strain’s ability to beat vaccine-induced immunity, director of CCMB Dr Rakesh Kumar Mishra commented that it would “probably not” be a source of concern.
Yet, Dr Agrawal speculates that compared to the British mutant strain, the double mutant strain found in India might possess a greater ability to beat vaccine-induced immunity.
Guess we can only wait.
A mutant strain’s ability to evade the body’s immune response is critical in determining how dangerous the virus strain is.
Should this new strain be found to have immune-evasion properties, it will spell trouble for India’s vaccination programme, as the shots might turn out to be less than effective against the double mutant strain.
And of course, that will spell trouble for the rest of the world.
Effect on: mortality
The good news is that this strain doesn’t seem to have a direct impact on mortality; according to Dr Mishra, the B.1.617 strain probably does not result in higher mortality.
Here comes the bad news: while there isn’t a direct impact, like all things, there may be an indirect impact.
Dr Misha stated that while the new strain may not cause greater mortality, it will add to the load on one’s body and immune system, mentioning that the new strain might “overload [one’s] health infrastructure”, which might then result in “preventable deaths”.
Yes, much like what’s happening in India now.
Danger lies in how it spreads
Dr Mishra cautions that whilst its impact on immunity and mortality does not seem to be a cause for concern, its potential to spread and mutate further makes it dangerous. He points out that a new, more lethal mutant strain could emerge from the current B.1.617 strain.
BBC reports that a virus strain that mutates in a certain way could then reinfect one who has already recovered from COVID-19. The implications of this aren’t just limited to the individual; Dr Kamil says that should the virus spread because of reinfection, then it could hurt herd immunity and put the most vulnerable people at risk.
But after reading over 1.1k words in this article, here’s something to remember: many of those points are experts’ opinions, so unless more studies have concluded, everything is still speculation.
Featured Image: Andrii Vodolazhskyi / Shutterstock.com
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