Bengaluru, June 15: A dangerous new Covid-19 variant that is potentially resistant to certain drugs has been found in Karnataka and other states with experts stressing the need for close monitoring of the situation.
Research suggests that the new variant, which is officially designated B.1.617.2.1 (or alternatively as AY.1) was first spotted in India on April 5.
Since then and up to May 15, seven additional sequences were identified in five other states, besides one from Karnataka.
According to experts, the increased mobility of people in March and April prior to the lockdown imposed on April 27, could have triggered the mutation, especially as it is a derivative of the B.1.617.2 “Delta” variant which experts already blame for driving the second wave.
Speaking as an independent authority, associate professor Amit Singh, head, Centre for Infectious Disease Research, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), said the larger the scale of the infections, the more opportunity for a virus to add a “gain of function” mutation.
“This is a mutation which gives a typical virus increased transmissibility, virulence, immunogenicity,” he said.
Well known virologist Dr V Ravi, who is also the chairman of the state’s Genomic Surveillance Committee, said that there was precedent to show that previous variants of the novel coronaviruses obtained same mutations independently across various geographic regions.
Dr Vishal Rao, also a member of the Committee, said that the state does not know how many of the sequences are coming from airline passengers of the ongoing “air bubble” international flights and how many are coming from hospitals.
“There is no data. We also need to get clinical correlation by monitoring ICUs and hospitals to find out what the genomic pattern and behavior is. We are not keeping our ears to the ground,” he said.
What is known is that the sequences have been found in states which reported some of the highest incidences of Covid-19 cases in the second wave: Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. Odisha also found one sequence.
The largest number of sequences found so far have been in Tamil Nadu (three sequences found out of 562 genome samples). In Karnataka, the sole sequence was found among 1,115 samples.
At the same time, the number of Delta+ sequences being found in India are increasing. Up to June 11, six sequences had been made public. This rose to seven on June 13 and finally to eight on Monday.
Some 158 sequences of the Delta+ have been found across 11 countries to date: Nepal, Portugal, Poland, Switzerland, Japan, Russia, Turkey, the UK, the US and Canada. The first global cases were found on March 29.
What makes Delta+ a concern is that it has picked up a key new mutation in the S protein according to scientists at Delhi’s CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology. This allows it to evade an immune response. The new variant is also potentially resistant to monoclonal antibody cocktail, which has been hailed as a cure.