BBC news explored this virus.

What is the Indian Coronavirus Variant? 

Viruses mutate all the time and produce different versions or variants of themselves. 

Most of these mutations are insignificant and some make the viruses even less dangerous, but others can make it more contagious and harder to vaccinate against.  

The Indian variant is officially known as the B.1.617 and was first detected in India in October. 

How far has it spread?

It is difficult to know how far it has spread as sample testing is not so prevalent in India.

It was found to be detected in 220 out of 361 COVID samples collected between January and March in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. 

It has also been found in at least 21 countries around the world.  

In the United Kingdom, it is thought that there were 103 cases identified since
22nd February.  

However, travellers from India have now been banned from coming to the United Kingdom. 

Is it more infectious and more dangerous?

As yet, it is not known whether this variant is more infectious or resistant to vaccines. 

It appears to be similar to those seen in variants identified in South Africa and Brazil and this mutation may help the virus evade antibodies in the immune system that can fight coronavirus based on experience from prior infection or a vaccine.  

It is felt that the Indian variant is not more infectious than the Kent variant.  

Why is there little known about it?  

Much of the data around the Indian variant is incomplete with very few samples having been shared, 298 in Indian and 3,656 worldwide compared with more than 384,000 sequences of the UK variant.  

The first recorded case in India fewer than 400 cases of the variant had been detected worldwide.  

Is this variant driving the second wave in India?

India has been reporting about 200,000 COVID cases daily since 15th April, well beyond its peak of 93,000 cases a day last year.  

Deaths have also been rising.  

It is felt that due to India’s high population density, this has been a perfect incubator for the virus to experiment with mutations.  

It is thought that the wave of cases in India could have been caused by large gatherings and lack of preventative measures such as mask wearing or social distancing.  

Will the vaccines work?

It is thought that existing vaccines will help to control the variant when it comes to preventing severe disease.  

All the vaccines currently available will probably slow down the spread of the disease.  

It is suggested that the vaccination programme will mean the difference between little to no disease or ending up in hospital.  

The London General Practice commends the government on its vaccination programme and encourages all those who are applicable to be vaccinated.

Dr Paul Ettlinger
BM, DRCOG, FRCGP, FRIPH, DOccMed

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