Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus has mutated several times resulting in different variants of the virus. The virus was first detected in China, infecting millions of people across the world. According to scientists, the virus has a tendency to mutate quickly, resulting in newer variants. Even after almost two years, the virus which was first detected in China has shown multiple variants, wreaking havoc worldwide.
In 2021, India experienced a severe second wave of COVID-19 but what is more concerning is that the county is on the verge of hitting another wave. Is it because of the rapid change in variants? It is undeniably true that as long as the virus spreads through the population, it will continue to mutate. After genome sequencing our experts discovered that one of the Coronavirus variants, Delta, discovered in India was actively responsible for the second wave in the country. Even before the Delta variant, the virus has shown its various variants originated in other parts of the world creating somehow a similar scenario affecting the lives of millions of people.
Currently, these variants have been segmented into two major parts Variant of Interest (VoI) & Variant of Concern (VoC) that particularly indicates the severity of the disease spread through the virus. By now, we have seen a succession of these variants harbouring around seven strong mutants that are creating concern all across the world. Here, take a look to know all about the mutants of interest & concern.
Know the mutants of interest and concern
1. Alpha variant: ( B.1.1.7)
(First identified: Kent, the UK)
In September 2020, England encountered the devastating surge in cases which is driven by the Alpha variant increasing the status of hospitalization and death. In January, the country went under another lockdown re-imposing strict movement restrictions. The variant seems to increase the transmission by 50% as compared to the previous version of virus.
According to WHO, the variant has been reported in at least 172 countries including Europe and became dominant in the U.S in early April. Now, it is believed that Alpha variant appears to be mutating again with the shift of Delta variant.
2. Beta variant: (B.1.351)
(First Identified: South Africa)
Similar to Alpha variant, Beta variant is also responsible for increasing the transmission rate of virus among the population. After studies it is detected that this variant reduces the effectiveness of prominent monoclonal antibody medications and the antibodies generated by the earlier infection of Covid-19 or its vaccine.
This is a variant with high risk and it escalated Covid cases in South Africa and overwhelmed their healthcare infrastructure. Beta variant has shown several mutations in a protein ‘spike’ including E484K mutation which is responsible to partially evade antibodies. Scientists predict that the effectiveness of the Beta variant may slow down with the emergence of the Delta variant, but a few weeks back it has shown a bit concerning scenario for Europe.
4. Gamma variant : P.1
(First identified: Brazil)
Presently, the variant has spread to more than 10 countries other than Brazil, including the UK. In 2020, the Gamma variant was spotted in Amazon city that has contributed to the surge in Covid-19 cases, rapidly causing shortage of oxygen supply in the country. Now, the Gamma variant has been seen in small numbers in Russia. As the variant holds pronounced transmissibility, it has been seen with the N501Y, K417N and E484K mutations which escape the immune responses of the body.
5. Kappa variant: B.1.617.1
(First identified: India)
As per WHO reports, the first few samples of the Kappa variant were found in India. It’s a double mutant virus including E484Q and the L453R. As per studies both Delta and Kappa variants are direct descendants of B.1.617. In a recent scenario only two cases have been found in Uttar Pradesh, India with this variant with no serious complications.
6. Lambda variant: C.37
(First identified: Peru)
One of the newest ‘Variants of Interest’ discovered by WHO, the Lambda variant has been dominant in its origin region in Peru and some countries of South America. Although, studies have been going on to understand the potential risk associated with the variant or if it is going to be an emerging risk on the global level. Until now, the lambda variant has not been found in India but a few cases have been discovered in the U.K and Europe.
7. Delta Plus: AY.1 and AY.2
(First identified: Europe)
The Delta variant has already been declared a threat at a global level. The Delta plus variant has the K417N mutant in its spike protein which has been found in the Beta and Gamma variants. With its emergence it has been declared a ‘variant of concern’ and can possibly become the dominant variant in the third wave of Coronavirus in India. So far, the country has found the maximum cases of Delta Plus variants from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.
It’s hard to beat the rapid mutation of Coronavirus, especially in densely populated regions. The only way to reduce the risk is to get vaccinated. With the changing mutations in the virus, it is challenging to compete efficacy against the newly formed variants but doctors suggest that it can control the severity of the disease and lead to less hospitalization.