India now has a triple mutant COVID-19 variant - Here's all you need to know

As COVID-19 cases in India continue to rise, several changes have been observed. The demographic of infected individuals is gradually changing, and new symptoms continue to emerge. There are now several mutant strains of the virus in circulation across India, with many holding the Indian-origin double mutant strain responsible for the rapidly climbing caseload.

But even as concern over the double mutant strain strain B.1.617 SARS-CoV-2 prompts growing concern in India and abroad, there is now a third mutation to contend with. Simply put, a mutation occurs when a virus replicates itself and in the process changes slightly. A virus with one or several new mutations is referred to as a "variant" of the original, and the more they circulate, the greater the changes. Data on the World Health Organization's website indicates that "hundreds of variations of this virus have been identified worldwide" over the last year and a half.

"Most changes have little to no impact on the virus’ properties. However, depending on where the changes are located in the virus’s genetic material, they may affect the virus’s properties, such as transmission (for example, it may spread more easily) or severity (for example, it may cause more severe disease)," the webpage explains.

In the case of the B.1.167 double mutant strain, there are two such changes to contend with, which can combine to form a potentially deadlier edition of the virus. Going by this logic, a triple mutation is certainly alarming. On Wednesday, Vinod Scaria, a scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s Institute of Genomic and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB) in New Delhi took to Twitter highlighting a few details about this new mutation.

"B.1.618 - a new lineage of SARS-CoV-2 predominantly found in India and characterized by a distinct set of genetic variants including E484K , a major immune escape variant," he tweeted, adding that this sequence had initially been found in West Bengal.

But while the strain may have been linked to West Bengal, Scaria says that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that those who are presently infected in West Bengal have been hit by this very strain.

"There are many unknowns for this lineage at this moment including its capability to cause reinfections as well as vaccine breakthrough infections. Additional experimental data is also required to assess the efficacy of vaccines against this variant," he added.

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