Govt denies reports of highly infectious strain found in AP
The government on Wednesday denied reports that a highly infectious new variant had been found in Andhra Pradesh. The government clarified that the variant, called N440K by researchers, is an old one that has been diminishing, but said that the ‘double mutant’ variant is spreading more across the country.
“The current surge in cases seen over the last one-and-a-half months in some states shows a correlation with the rise in the B.1.617 lineage of SARS-CoV2,” National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) director Sujeet Singh said at a press meet on Wednesday.
The B.1.617 is popularly known as the double mutant variant because of two prominent mutations on its spike protein gene, which is the part of the virus through which it attaches with human cells, thereby infecting the person.
The double mutant variant is now increasing in prevalence in more states after being first discovered in Maharashtra, Singh said. The variant was becoming prevalent in West Bengal, Karnataka, Gujarat and Delhi.
The increase in prevalence of double mutant strain was in contrast with the diminishing trend seen in other variants like that from the UK, West Bengal as well as the N440K variant touted to be from AP, according to Singh’s presentation and comments from Renu Swarup, secretary of the department of biotechnology.
At the press conference, Swarup said that news reports about the N440K variant in Andhra Pradesh refer to a variant found last year and is based on a research paper that was posted on 30 April on bioRxiv, a platform for publishing pre-prints of research papers so that they can be peer-reviewed. The report spoke about how the N440K grew much faster in cultured cells in labs, based on which the researchers concluded the variant could be far more infectious than other strains.
“The report, which was published in some pre-prints, was by an independent researcher based on some samples that were collected in July last year and only in cell cultures. So, that is not from a report in humans. N440K was subsequently found when we did the genome sequencing this time in some samples that we found in some states but it very quickly diminished and we don’t really see it prevalent at all and there has been no clinical impact of it at all that were found in the correlation (with the caseload in India) done by NCDC from its data,” Swarup said.
A similar case is unfolding with the variant that was found in West Bengal and the UK variant’s prevalence in India, Swarup and Singh said.
“B.1.618 was also reported in between but very quickly we have seen that 618 has also now diminished and we do not see 618 in the increase at all in terms of data that we have,” Swarup said.
Singh said that B.1.1.7, popularly known as the UK variant, has been declining in proportion across the country in the last one-and-a-half months.
Singh had in April said that the strain had become prevalent in Delhi and Punjab by the end of March. The UK strain was found in nearly 400 samples collected from Delhi and in 508 samples from Punjab.
Singh spoke about a correlation between the increase of cases in the second wave and the prevalence of the ‘double mutant’ variant, but said there is no data yet available on its role in increased transmissibility and severity. This was also the case with the other variants.
The UK government in January had said that the B.1.1.7 strain, first found in southern England in September, is 50% more transmissible than the original strain and about 30% more deadly.
The Indian government on Wednesday said that the strains discovered in India are still being studied for such information and for their effects on vaccines.