No unusual rise in Delta Plus cases in districts of concern in Maharashtra: Health officials
Although cases of Delta Plus variants have increased to 103 from 21 in June in the state, public health officials claim that transmission rate is still limited. Most districts which recorded the variant have lower positivity rate than the state’s average that stands at 3.1%.
Swab samples from Maharashtra continue to be sent for genome sequencing to Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB) to detect mutations in Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
“The identification of mutations from swab samples is a continuous process. Every month, we send around 3,600 samples for genome sequencing, and it takes over a month to get the reports. So far, almost 90% of them have tested positive for Delta variants,” said Dr Pradeep Awate, state surveillance officer.
Delta Plus (AY.1) is a mutation of the highly transmissible Delta variant of Sars-CoV-2 (B.1.617.2) and detected in the state during the second wave. In June, the Union health ministry declared it as the variant of concern.
In June 21 Delta Plus variants were identified in the state, which raised fear among the medical experts. Districts like Ratnagiri, Kolhapur, Mumbai, Beed, Raigad, among others became a cause of concern for the state health department. However, almost after three months, it has been observed that there hasn’t been any unusual rise in Covid-19 cases in the districts that reported Delta Plus variants.
For instance, Ratnagiri that has recorded 15 cases of Delta Plus variant so far, the highest in the state, is recording fewer daily Covid-19 cases compared to July. The seven-day positivity rate of the district stands at 2.6%. Similarly, Mumbai which recorded 11 Delta Plus cases is recording a positivity rate below 1% since last month.
In Ratnagiri, Dr Sanghamitra Gawde, civil surgeon said, “We are keeping a close eye and testing more people and close contacts of Covid-19 patients, but we haven’t recorded any sudden rise in cases. We have only 1,400 active Covid-19 cases which was around 2,000 at the start of the month.”
Till date, there is little evidence to show that Delta plus is as transmissible as the Delta variant, which continues to be the dominant variant across the globe.
“We need more data before concluding if Delta Plus is more transmissible than the Delta variant. So far, we haven’t observed any significant rise in Covid-19 cases in these districts. Now, as the Covid-19 restrictions have been relaxed, the next 3-4 weeks will be crucial,” said Dr Awate.
SK Singh, director of the National Centre for Disease Control, in a press briefing last week on the pandemic status in India, said, “From the evidence we have so far, it looks like the Delta Plus variant of the novel coronavirus will not be able to fuel an exponential surge in the number of Covid cases in India.”
Experts also point out that Delta plus variant has also been found in nine other countries — the USA, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, Russia and China. The Delta variant has now spread to 80 countries.
“The concern now is that the presence of the mutation in the delta plus variant might render it immune from the antibodies produced by the vaccine, past infection or the new antibody cocktails being used in treatment. However, this hasn’t yet been proven and might not necessarily be the case, and the rarity with which the delta plus variant has been reported makes it not a variant of concern yet. We do need to be vigilant and monitor its spread closely,” said Dr Lancelot Pinto, pulmonologist and epidemiologist from Hinduja Hospital.
However, some districts like Pune, Sangli, Satara and Ahmedabad that are recording above 4.5% weekly positivity rate are the main concern of the state health department.
“There still are some districts of concern across Maharashtra. There are several factors behind it. Some of these districts peaked late, so are experiencing a thick tail. We need to keep up with contact tracing and ring fence those areas where the clusters are seen so that we are able to isolate and treat these patients better,” said Dr Rahul Pandit, part of the state Covid-19 task force.