What is a ‘double mutant’ variant of the coronavirus detected in India?The name is given to a variant where two mutations come together in the same virus. It, however, has not been linked to the resurgence in Covid-19 cases in India.
A sharp rise in the number of cases in neighbouring India has caused concerns in Nepal as well, as the two countries share around 1,800-kilometre-long open border. On Wednesday, the daily count of new infections crossed 50,000 for the first time since November 6. Reports have also surfaced in India about the detection of what is being described as a unique variant and dubbed the “double mutant” variant.
The new “double mutant” variant of the coronavirus was detected in some samples in India, reported the BBC. Indian officials, according to the BBC report, have said the variants are not linked to the spike in Covid-19 cases, but they were checking if the variant could be more infectious or less affected by vaccines. As India struggles to deal with the latest surge in infections, Nepal is staring at the risk of a second wave, as infection numbers have seen a steady rise over the past few days. It’s not clear whether the “double mutant” variant has entered Nepal.
Here is everything you need to know about the “double mutant” variant and the risks associated with it.
What does a new “double mutant” variant mean?
“Double mutant” variant is the one where two mutations come together in the same virus. Like any other virus, the coronavirus too keeps changing in small ways as it spreads from one person to another. In general, such mutations are insignificant and may not change the way a virus behaves. But sometimes mutations are significant, which could trigger changes in the spike protein that the virus employs to cling on to and enter human cells. The virus with such mutations could be more infectious and increase the severity of the disease. Even vaccines may not work against such mutations. Vaccines against respiratory pathogens such as SARS-Cov-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, protect individuals by alerting human bodies to make antibodies.
How worried should one be about this “double mutant” variant?
On Wednesday, India’s Health Ministry said that some 10,787 samples from 18 Indian states also showed 771 cases of variants of concerns (VOCs)—736 of the United Kingdom, 34 of the South African and one Brazilian.
According to the World Health Organisation, a variant of concern is if, through a comparative assessment, it has been demonstrated to be associated with a) increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in Covid-19 epidemiology; b) increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or c) decrease in the effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.
The new “double variant” mutant is not a scientific name.
Indian officials have said they will submit it to a global repository called GISAID which will, if the variant merits, will classify it as a variant of concern, and then it will have its own name.
Has Nepal reported any variant of concern?
Yes. Three people were said to have been infected with the UK variant (B.1.1.7) when samples of returnees from the United Kingdom had tested positive for Covid-19 and were sent to the World Health Organisation for verification.
The UK variant has spread to more than 80 countries. It is said to be much more contagious and easy to catch.
Is the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India under the brand name Covishield, which Nepal is currently using, effective against the UK variant?
The World Health Organisation in February said it recommends using the Oxford-AstraZeneca even in countries tackling new variants of coronavirus.
Indian officials also have said that the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective against variants of the virus first identified in Britain and Brazil.
Do we know if the “double mutant” variant has entered Nepal? Do we have the technology to ascertain if such a variant is present?
As of now, we do not know about the presence of a“double mutant” variant in the country. So far, only the presence of the UK variant has been confirmed by the World Health Organisation’s collaborating centre in Hong Kong. After the confirmation of the more contagious UK variant in three samples, authorities have not sent samples of infected people for whole-genome sequencing tests.
State-run laboratories currently do not have the capacity to conduct whole-genome sequencing tests, but preparations are underway to set up a facility with the financial as well as technical support of the UN health agency, according to officials. However, two private laboratories in the country are equipped to conduct such tests.