The recent death of a woman from Covid-19 in Mumbai has once again evoked fear in the minds of the people of India. The untimely death of the 63-year-old woman is being attributed to the delta-plus variant making it the third death in the country due to this variant of Covid-19.
The death comes amid the easing of covid curbs by various states across the country and is indicative of the fear of Covid-19 which still looms large. Last month, a 69-year-old man in Raigad and an 80-year-old woman from Ratnagiri also succumbed to this strain.
Delta variant which was largely behind India’s catastrophic second wave and was identified spreading in communities in 84 other countries gave way to its mutation in the form of Delta plus variant. The Delta plus variant has been found in 11 countries so far and was recognized as a “variant of concern", after its traces were found in three states namely, Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.
While scientists in India are keeping a close watch on the Delta Plus variant and lab tests are underway to check vaccine effectiveness, experts have said Delta Plus does not appear to be more infectious than Delta.
Delta vs Delta Plus
While Delta has been recognized as the dominant variant behind the onset of the second wave of Covid-19, delta plus is its mutated form which has risen the ranks in a short while to be known as a variant of global concern shows mutations acquired from both the Delta strain, first discovered in India and the Beta strain, which was discovered in South Africa. Delta Plus has been formed as a result of Delta acquiring a mutation called K417N in the spike protein. The new mutation of the B.1.617.2 strain or the Delta variant, as named by the WHO, has been found to have two graded mutations L452R and P871R.
Is the Delta Plus variant more dangerous?
While the prevalence of Delta Plus is low in India, scientists are aware of the fact that some mutations might help the virus become either more transmissible, or more virulent, or both. As both AY.1 and AY.2 are descendants of Delta , they are likely to share some properties of the Delta variant, such as transmissibility. Also, the K417N mutation is present in the Beta variant, which is reported to have shown immune escape and could dodge antibodies. As per the Indian government, the Delta Plus Variant has shown increased transmissibility, stronger binding capability to receptors of lung cells and potential reduction in response to monoclonal antibody treatment. The Delta Plus variant reportedly spreads “almost 60 percent faster” than the Delta variant.
In terms of spread, how does Delta Plus compare with Delta?
According to lab studies and genomic data, scientists are of the opinion that Delta Plus is not rising faster than the Delta variant even as Delta Plus cases have been found across 12 states, According to INSACOG, a consortium of 28 labs set up by the Health Ministry to carry out genome sequencing of the virus, among the 45,000 samples from across 12 states that have been sequenced, some 48 have been found with the mutated variant.
Top virologists in India have stated that as opposed to Delta Variant Delta Plus infections have shown symptoms from both the parent Delta variant as well as the partner Beta variant. Major symptoms of the Delta Plus variant as listed are cough, diarrhea, fever, chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, skin rash, discoloration of fingers and toes. Symptoms like stomach ache, nausea and appetite loss are also being attributed to the Delta Plus variant.
How effective are vaccines in combatting Delta and Delta plus?
Experts say that even one dose of Covishield is over 70% effective in protecting from severe disease and hospitalisation against the Delta variant. But as far as Delta Plus in concerned, trends are unclear at present.
“We have to wait for more data on the mutated variant,” Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, told The Indian Express. “Vaccines are effective as of now against all variants in preventing severe disease and death. We will need more data from effectiveness studies. The good thing is that there are very few cases that have been described globally and we need to keep a close watch on this,” Dr Swaminathan had said earlier during a organised by the WHO. However, some experts fear the variant might be able to evade immunity gained from earlier infections or COVID-19 vaccines.
While there is still alot to discover about the new emergeing Covid variant, all health experts have noted that adhering to Covid protocols like hand hygiene, double masking, social distancing, etc might prove fruitful in combatting the disease and curbing its spread.