By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 29 June 2021
After reeling under a ravaging wave of the coronavirus, India has finally started limping back to normalcy. The second wave, which peaked in mid-May, seems to be tapering off as of June. However, some warn that there are signs of new concerns being posed by the continuously mutating virus. Scientists working in the field of genomic surveillance have identified multiple cases of a new virulent strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus - called Delta plus - across the country. Delta plus is a sub-lineage of the Delta variant which is widely believed to be one of the major contributors to the second wave of COVID-19. The article below explains both these variants in detail.
The Delta variant, also called B.1.617.2, is one of the several strains of SARS-CoV-2 that have been designated as “Variants of Concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other organizations. It was first detected in India in October 2020. Since then, it has become the dominant strain in India, the UK, and several other countries.
The Delta variant has some concerning mutations at the spike protein that are not found in other variants. The infection caused by this variant is associated with slightly different primary symptoms than those exhibited by people infected with other variants. Headaches, sore throat, and a runny nose are the most common symptoms experienced by people infected with the Delta variant. On the other hand, cough and loss of taste and smell, are the primary symptoms in cases involving other strains.
According to the WHO, the Delta variant is the most infectious SARS-CoV-2 variant yet. It is believed to be nearly 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) that was first identified in the UK in September 2020. The Alpha variant is itself 50% to 60% more transmissible than the original “wild type” strain that was first detected in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Available scientific evidence suggests that certain key mutations at the spike protein, such as D614G, T478K, L452R, and P681R, may be responsible for the higher transmissibility and infectivity of the Delta variant.
Scientists say that the Delta variant may partially evade neutralization by antibodies generated by the body after vaccination or a previous bout of COVID-19 infection. A number of real-world observational studies have been conducted to determine the effect of the Delta variant on vaccine efficacy.
According to researchers, the Delta variant is also associated with an increased risk of severe disease in unvaccinated people. A study published in The Lancet says, when compared to the Alpha variant, the Delta variant doubled the risk of hospitalization in Scotland. Similarly, US CDC states that the variant may render certain life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments less effective.
The Delta plus variant, also known as B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1, is a sub-lineage of the Delta variant. It has acquired a key mutation in spike protein - K417N - that was initially found in the Beta variant (first detected in South Africa in 2020). According to scientists, the spike mutation K417N is associated with increased transmissibility, stronger binding to ACE-2 receptors of lung cells, and resistance to monoclonal antibody treatment.
The Delta plus variant has been officially designated a variant of concern by the Health Ministry of India. According to the ministry, the variant has been detected in 48 samples in 10 states from the 45,000 samples sequenced as of end-June. Four people have succumbed to the variant in the country. Besides India, the Delta Plus variant has been detected in several countries all over the world, including the US, UK, Japan, and China.
The Delta plus variant has been identified recently. Therefore, it is still too early to say whether the Delta Plus variant is more dangerous than the Delta variant or not. Studies are being conducted to determine the effectiveness of vaccines against this mutation. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has announced that it will come out with the results of effectiveness trials of vaccines against the Delta Plus variant sometime in July 2021.
The Union Health Ministry has directed the states to step up containment measures, testing, tracking, and vaccination in districts and clusters where the cases of Delta plus variant have been detected. The ministry has also asked these states to immediately send the samples to the designated labs of the INSACOG to aid the genomic surveillance.
The emergence of the Delta plus variant has sparked fears that it will lead to the third wave of the COVID-19 in the country. The Delta variant played a key role in the worsening of the second wave of the coronavirus. Experts maintain that it is still too early to say if the Delta plus variant is more dangerous than the delta variant. However, the situation will likely evolve as more data becomes available. They recommend ramping up containment measures, testing, tracking, and vaccination in regions where the variant has been detected. People must be sensitized about the significance of getting vaccinated and also following COVID-19 appropriate behaviour, to protect themselves and their loved ones from the new variant.
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