‘Rise in double-mutant strain in Maharashtra cities’
For Maharashtra, which has been recording country-wide high numbers in the second wave of the pandemic, the trend is particularly worrisome as these mutations could make the coronavirus spread more readily
A rising number of double-mutant strain of SARS-CoV-2 is circulating in Maharashtra, the director of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed on Wednesday. “Different kinds of mutations have been found in Maharashtra, but there is definitely a rising trend of double-mutant variants in several cities. This trend has not been noticed across the state,” Dr. Sujeet Kumar Singh, NCDC director, said. A senior official said over 60% samples from various cities in Maharashtra whose genome was sequenced were found to be of this particular double mutant variant.
It is as yet unclear how many samples have been sequenced from the state, and which cities the double-mutant samples belonged to. When asked for this information, Singh refused to comment.
For Maharashtra, which has been recording country-wide high numbers in the second wave of the pandemic, the trend is particularly worrisome as these mutations could make the coronavirus spread more readily and, at least to a degree, resist immunity from a past infection or triggered by vaccines, the Centre had said last month.
The Union government has on March 24 confirmed the presence of mutations and said that a novel variant with a combination of two mutations E484Q and L452R -- now classified as B.1.617 lineage-- was found in 206 samples taken from Maharashtra since December. The majority of double-mutant variants were found in the samples sent from Nagpur. Doctors across Maharashtra and other parts of the country have been noticing variation in the presentation of Covid in the second wave.
“Last year, we saw the involvement of lung infections in over 70% of the cases, but this year we are seeing more and more involvement of the gut,” said Dr Om Shrivastav, infectious disease specialist and member of Maharashtra’s Covid-19 task force.
“Another alarming trend is patients getting better and then returning with more sickness. Such clinical evidence of possible mutations has been noted by many doctors,” he added.
Many experts also pointed that there is not enough data on variants and said that states like Maharashtra should have sent at least 5% to 10% of their samples for genome sequencing, a process to identify the genetic makeup of the organism and study its changes. Mumbai’s civic body sends 50 samples for genome sequencing of infected patients with travel history, from hot spots and families with higher infection rates each week, Suresh Kakani, additional commissioner, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, had told HT last month. “Mutations are commonly seen in single-cell RNA viruses like the coronavirus,” said Vellore-based virologist Dr T Jacob John. “Which are the variants prevalent in states like Maharashtra with a high number of Covid-19 cases? Is the local variant spreading faster than the UK, South African, and Brazilian variants? A clear variant profile helps in answering these questions,” said John. “We need to know if the vaccines are effective on these variants, from a laboratory perspective. And if there is a need to quickly modify them,” he said.
A consortium of 10 national laboratories called -Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics- was formed in December 2020 to carry out genomic sequencing of circulating viruses and correlate the findings with other trends. The Ministry, in its statement last month, said that 771 of the 10787 samples that were sequenced were found to have the UK, South African, and Brazilian mutations, which were identified as variants of concern (VOC). The Centre last month said that three known VOCs were also found in Maharashtra, the Centre revealed: 56 of these were of the UK variant (B.1.1.7), five of the South African variant (B.1.351) and one of the Brazilian variant (P.1).
It was further revealed that of the 220 samples from Mumbai sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune for sequencing, only 22 of them had the B 1.1.7 variant. Of those, half the persons had a travel history, while the other half comprised close contacts.