The Epsilon strain of Covid-19, found in California in 2020, has now reared its head closer home with five cases detected in Pakistan amid a spike in cases.
The cases, detected in Lahore, made Pakistan officials issue an alert, as the variant, reportedly the second-most dominant variant in New York, has been called vaccine-resistant and almost as highly transmissible as the Delta variant. India in April and May saw the devastating effects of the Delta variant - holding similar attributes - with a second wave that saw high Covid-19 fatalities and stretching of its healthcare system.
Now, as cases of the Epsilon variant are reported in South Asia, here are your major questions about the strain answered:
Q) Where was the Epsilon variant first reported, and how widespread is it?
The Epsilon variant - also known as the CAL.20C - was first detected in California. It has five defining variations, including a mutation in spike protein L452R. The United States’ Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) declared it a ‘Variant of Concern; initially but it is now a ‘Variant of Interest’. Apart from the United States, it has been found in 34 nations, but it is not believed to be widespread at this time. In February 2021, the variant accounted for around 15 percent of the total cases in the US.
Q) What are its concerning features?
Vaccine-resistance: A study led by researchers at the University of Washington found the variant to be more resistant to vaccines. Published on 1 July in the peer-reviewed journal Science, the study says the Epsilon strain “can completely escape lab-made antibodies and reduce effectiveness of the antibodies generated in the plasma of vaccinated people". The ability to neutralise this variant has been reported to diminish 2.5 to 3 times in vaccinated people’s blood plasma.
Transmissible: The variant is also known to be 20 per cent more transmissible than the preceding coronavirus strains.
Q) Why did the US deescalate its status?
On June 29 this year, the US downgraded the strain to a ‘Variant of Interest’ because the existing data indicated that treatments and vaccinations are effective against it. In comparison, the CDC recently sounded alarm on the Delta variant, calling it as easily spread as ‘chicken pox’ , saying it may cause more severe disease than all other known versions of the virus, the New York Times reported.
However, with increased population and slower vaccination rates in South Asian countries compared to the US, the Epsilon variant may cause initial concern.
‘Variant of Concern’ vs ‘Variant of Interest Explained’:
A ‘Variant of Interest’ is a COVID-19 variant with unique genetic markers that have been linked to alterations in receptor binding, reduced vaccine neutralisation, reduced therapeutic efficacy, potential diagnostic effects, or enhanced transmissibility and virulence.
A ‘Variant of Concern’ is a variant with evidence of enhanced transmissibility, higher hospitalizations or deaths, significant reduction in neutralisation by vaccination/previous infection, decreased therapeutic efficacy, or diagnostic detection failures.