In the midst of rising levels of new SARS-CoV-2 infections in India and fears of a second wave of COVID-19, health officials have reported a new "double mutant" variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the country, raising additional concerns.
The findings come after the analysis of 10,787 positive SARS-CoV-2 samples from different states across the country, which found 771 variants of concern (VOCs), of which 736 were the UK variant, 34 the South African variant, and 1 sample was positive for the Brazilian variant.
The report also found "an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations. Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity. These mutations have been found in about 15-20% of samples and do not match any previously catalogued VOCs." The variant reported containing the E484Q and L452R mutations is described as a "double mutant".
A double mutant occurs when the virus undergoes two mutations that have characteristics of known variant mutations, but then becomes an independent variant of concern. Thus far it's unclear how many people in India may have been infected by the new double mutant variant.
A news release statement by the countries Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stated: "Though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish or direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some States. Genomic sequencing and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyze the situation."
Furthermore, it is not yet known whether the new double mutant variant is any more dangerous than some of the other variants of concern that had been discovered in India.
“Double mutant is not a scientific term. It is just another mutant which seems to be unique to India,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, founder of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in New Delhi in a statement reported by the Guardian. “Is there a reason to be worried about this particular variant? Not as yet, because we have no evidence that these variants are more transmissible or more lethal than what we already have,” Laxminarayan confirmed.
More investigative work is required to understand whether the new mutant variant poses an increased health risk or whether vaccines would be less effective against it, nevertheless, India has been struggling to get to grips with rising numbers of new COVID-19 infections in the country in recent days. On Wednesday, 20,358 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in the country.
For more information about COVID-19, check out the IFLScience COVID-19 hub where you can follow the current state of the pandemic, the progress of vaccine development, and further insights into the disease.