Growing vaccine hesitancy, poor preventive measures in place and the emergence of newer strains is said to have amped up the surge in COVID cases right now. Adding to the worries is the identification of a double mutant viral strain, which some believe has contributed to the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases across the country.
The double mutant virus has also struck a double whammy of sorts right now since controlling the new variant is also troublesome at a time when cases are rising in a bad manner.
But how worried should we really be? Is the double mutant virus, much like the Kent or Brazilian COVID variant, the sole reason for the rise in cases? Does it also bring forth newer symptoms? Here’s an explainer on the same…
Why is the new strain called the double mutant virus?
The double mutant virus variant, first identified around March end is currently in circulation.
Much like other mutations of the virus, the new mutant too carries differences in the genetic code of the virus which allows it to attach itself to ACE2 entry receptors faster. What also makes it super scary is that it carries markings of two virus mutations, making it a double mutant.
The double mutant variant has been scientifically named B.1.617, which contains E484Q and L452R mutations.
Where all has it been identified?
While the new variant is domestic to India and rather common, positive cases detected with the new double mutant virus have been traced in at least 5 states in India, which have also recorded high surges in the past month, including Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab.
How many more states have it in circulation, is still fully unclear. The variant has also shockingly spread globally too, with reports suggesting that cases have also been detected in the USA, UK, Singapore and Australia.
What makes it so dangerous?
As mentioned above, the new mutation carries the genetic code from two other mutations, E484Q and L452R mutations, which were already in circulation globally.
While both the mutations, traced across separate variants are characteristic for their high infectivity and transmission rates, this is the first time they have merged together, making it many times more infectious and deadly.
Put in simpler terms, the double mutation has two different spike protein markers related to coronavirus. The spike protein helps the virus attach itself to the human cells and then invade the organs. Now, variants of the strain alter the very structure of the spike protein, which makes it more efficient in attaching with the human host cells and multiplying faster, causing scarier infection bout.
Does it pose a threat to our immunity?
We do not currently have enough clinical evidence to know how fast, or how many people exactly have been infected by the double mutant virus. But, from the way the second wave is fast spreading, experts are suggesting that the double mutant variant may be to blame.
According to experts, a double mutant variant is more infectious, that not only spreads faster and causes severe diseases and push healthcare systems to the verge of collapse again, which is being seen right now.
The Health Ministry has also issued a statement saying that the new variant could also increase infection rates and easily surpass immune defences, “Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity,” the ministry said.
Will vaccination drives be impacted by it?
There’s yet another danger that may be linked to the double mutant variant- increased positivity and reinfection rates post vaccination.
Now, there are a lot of people who are continuing to test positive after getting the vaccine doses. This also includes the ones getting reinfected by the virus.
While COVID vaccines may not be 100% effective right now, but the stronger and distinct spike protein may also allow the new variants to surpass neutralising antibodies. It can also infect the ones who already have recovered from novel coronavirus, even if it a rare occurrence right now.
The more easily it evades antibodies, the tougher it would be for vaccines to prevent infection and for us to reach herd immunity.