No mutation found in three virus strains in India: ICMR
Scientists isolate strains of viruses from patients to check for variations or possible mutations in a geographic area. The isolation of virus strains is the first step towards creating drugs, vaccines and rapid diagnostic kits in a country.Updated: Apr 18, 2020 10:43 IST
Evidence available with scientists suggests there has been no mutation in the three known strains of the coronavirus that is causing the Covid-19 outbreak in India, government officials said on Friday, even as they claimed that the steps taken by authorities have helped the country slow the doubling rate of the infection to 6.2 days from three days before the announcement of a nationwide lockdown last month.
Genome sequencing of the Sars-CoV-2 virus in Indian laboratories, including in Pune’s premier National Institute of Virology, has so far found three strains of the pathogen, Raman R Gangakhedkar, head of the epidemiology and communicable disease division of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said.
“The initial samples had a virus sequence similar to what was found in Wuhan, China (where the outbreak began in December); the second sequence was what was circulating in Iran and has similarities to the Wuhan virus; and the third strain is what has been found in people infected in the United States or the United Kingdom,” he said at a press conference.
“...this virus does not mutate fast. Now the question is which of the strains is going to be the dominant quasispecies (dominant strain) in India...it is a bit difficult to predict at this time,” he added.
Scientists isolate strains of viruses from patients to check for variations or possible mutations in a geographic area. The isolation of virus strains is the first step towards creating drugs, vaccines and rapid diagnostic kits in a country.
Several research projects are underway in India in the field of drugs and vaccine development. ICMR will soon start studying the effect of Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine in Indian population. BCG, which scientists believe could boost immunity, is a tuberculosis vaccine that has shown promise against Covid-19, according to US researchers.
At the same event, a top official of the Union health ministry said the sweeping restrictions announced to contain the infectious disease seemed to be working in India, stressing that it took it took 6.2 days for Covid-19 cases to double in the past week as against three days before the nationwide lockdown came into effect on March 25.
“There are 19 states where the doubling rate is less than the national average, which means it is taking more than 6.2 days for the cases to double. It is a product of our efforts...,” Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry, said.
These 19 states and Union Territories are Kerala, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Puducherry, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Assam, Telangana, Karnataka and Tripura.
On April 5, at the regular afternoon briefing to the press, Agarwal mentioned that the number of infections was doubling in India every 4.1 days.
The doubling rate in the UK (104,145 cases and 13,759 deaths) stands at about 10 days at present. The corresponding number for the US (667,801 cases and 32,916 deaths) is about 11 days. To be sure, these two countries have managed to slow the doubling rate. When there were around 14,000 positive cases in these countries, the number of infections was doubling in the UK (around March 27) in about three days and in the US (around March 19) in about two days.
According to the ministry, there have been 13,387 Covid-19 cases in India till April 17 with 1,749 recoveries and 452 fatalities.
“As of today, 170,000 dedicated Covid-19 beds and 21,800 ICU beds are operational in 1,919 hospitals across the country. All these efforts are being made to ensure country is well equipped to deal with any eventuality,” Agarwal said.
Separately on Friday, a group of ministers, headed by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, discussed how the implementation of lockdown measures can be improved, especially in areas reporting more Covid-19 cases. The group also discussed how areas such as diagnostics, vaccine development, drugs and hospital facilities can be strengthened for Covid-19 prevention and management.