The genome sequencing of the samples of persons infected with the UK variant of SARS-CoV-2 in India has revealed that the mutations in it do not push the patients towards severity of Covid-19 disease or enhance the transmissibility, so far.
Besides, the symptoms that arrived with the contraction of the specific variant was also found similar to variant circulating in the country, top officials at National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) told IANS.
Dr Sujeet Kumar Singh, Director, NCDC, said that the symptoms of the UK variant are similar to the common strain circulating in India and in other parts of the world. “As of now, there is no evidence that the symptoms from the UK strain push towards severity of the illness or are distinct in nature compared to the common strains,” he said.
He also said that the UK strain was found with at least 70 per cent enhanced transmissibility in European nations, however, such a case has not been detected in India so far. “In contrast to the situation in Europe, we have found no spike in the UK strain among the people infected here or the enhanced rate of transmission. The spread here was not found as expeditious as it was detected elsewhere,” Singh informed.
NCDC is the nodal agency in the country for disease surveillance facilitating prevention and control of communicable diseases.
Dr Suresh Kumar, Director, Delhi government-run Lok Nayak Hospital, the only facility in the national capital where the patients of the UK variant are treated, told IANS that most of them had mild symptoms of the disease such as low-grade fever and cough. However, a few needed ICU assistance as well.
“We had 26 patients of the UK strain. While most of them exhibited mild symptoms, two experienced severity and were admitted to ICU for a few days. They were given remdesivir and have been discharged. Currently, we have only eight such patients in the hospital,” he added.
First detected in the southeastern part of England, the highly contagious British variant of coronavirus, also known as B.1.1.7, is raging there whereas, it has spread to 86 other countries including India. So far, 187 people have been found infected with the UK variant in India.
Besides, five more patients have been found infected with two separate variants of coronavirus in India – four from a variant that emerged in South Africa (SA) and one from another variant that emerged in Brazil.
Officials at Ministry of Health and Family Welfare told IANS that the patients who contracted the UK, South African and Brazilian variants have been traced in 18 states and Union territories. To protect the identity of the patients and sanctity of the privacy, the details of those states/UTs cannot be revealed.
Meanwhile, Dr Singh said that nothing concrete could be said about the South African and Brazilian variants since the country does not have substantial figures to infer anything. “Only five of the infections have been detected till now. Unless and until you have a valid sample size, you cannot infer anything. A large data is required to derive any conclusion,” he added.
Speaking further on the virus’ mutation, Dr Singh informed IANS that thousands of mutations were found in India as well where the transmissibility was observed to enhance as much as 30 per cent. “We have detected over 6,000 mutations so far and a few mutants were noticed with an enhanced prevalence of up to 30 per cent. However, whether these mutations have sustained or effective transmission is not proven conclusively,” he added.
Dr Singh also explained that a mutation finds relevance only when it creates an impact in the community. “From a public health perspective, the data of genome sequencing where mutation is found relevant if it impacts the severity of transmissibility of the infection. Because, as a nature, a virus is bound to replicate and mutate with the spread. A clinically and statistically valid association with the mutations needs to be established,” he said.
He also said that the government has kept an eye on each spike. “Not only in the districts where the UK and other strains have gone, but anywhere, where an unusual trend of spike in cases is seen, be it Kerala, Maharashtra or Punjab. We are doing representative genome sequencing there,” he added.
When asked if the mutations in the virus or onset of a different variant could have led to a rise in new cases in Kerala and Maharashtra, Dr Singh said that it could be a possibility. “However, we lack correlation of the data at this point and without that, nothing substantial can be concluded,” he said.