A district study is being conducted in the state every month to identify the circulating variant and its infectivity.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan recently said that a variant first detected in Britain and South Africa had been identified in the state. In addition, a ‘dual mutant’ variant, which is widespread in Maharashtra, has also been reported in Kerala.
“Of the total cases now detected, 40% came from this variant, which includes 30% of the British variant, while 7% was a dual mutant strain and 2% was a South African one,” CM said while calling for caution from residents.
The state began conducting surveillance in December 2020 when a new coronavirus variant was identified in Britain. At that time, the number of cases in Kerala was on a downward trend since September and the average number of cases reported each day was around 6,000.
With the start of the second wave of COVID-19 in February, Kerala began sequencing samples to identify variants in the state. “Three new variants have been found in the state from a sample collected before the election. Two of them are variant B.1.67 (dual mutant) and variant B.1.351 (South Africa). This variant was found in samples collected from March 2021 but not found in previously collected samples. B.1.67 is the Indian variant which has been rampant in Maharashtra while B.1.351 is the South African variant, “Vinod Scaria, a scientist at CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB), New Delhi, told TNM.
Kerala has tied up with the CSIR-IGIB in November 2020 for genome sequencing to understand the mutations of the novel coronavirus. Experts say it is normal for the coronavirus to mutate.
Sorting the sample by district is still ongoing while the study by state is completed in 2020. The report of the study, which was conducted in conjunction with Kozhikode Medical College, has been submitted to the government but details are not yet published however.
Rapid deployment, from 3% to 30% in one month
According to Vinod, the spread of the British variant increased 10-fold from February to March in Kerala. “The third is the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant, which has been found in large numbers in the state. It had been found in the state in February but only in 3% of the sample. But in March it was found in 30% of the samples collected. This shows how fast the virus is spreading – from February to March the spread increased from 3% to 30%, ”said Vinod.
However, the South African variant is found in very small proportions in Kerala.
Two ways of studying mutations
Mutations are studied in two ways in Kerala; one by sequencing the genome and the second by sequencing the spike protein in the sample. Genome sequencing involves studying the sequence of bases present throughout the organism’s genome. The second method is faster and therefore can be done for more samples. There are 12 centers in Kerala, both under the Kerala and Union administrations, performing genome sequencing and spike protein sequencing. CSIR-IGIB is also trusted with genome sequencing.
Last year the research was carried out in Kozhikode and its surroundings by collecting 200 samples. Currently the study is carried out in all districts by collecting 100 samples from each district. “With this, we can say what variants are spreading in each district. The study by district is more relevant because population dynamics are not the same across all districts in the state. The presence of the British variant is quite high in border districts such as Palakkad, Wayanad and Kasaragod. In addition, it is higher in big cities like Kozhikode and Ernakulam, where a lot of people mingle with each other so the possibility of transmission is high, “said Vinod.
The two variants that were first detected in the UK and South Africa were contagious and were classified as Variants of Concern (VoC). “Because this variant spreads rapidly, we are seeing more people requiring hospitalization. It could even lead to an increase in the death rate, ”said Vinod, adding that the British variant is one that has been found rampant in Delhi.
“The public must take this as a serious message because the infectivity (transmission from one person to another) is high with this virus,” said Dr. Chandni Radhakrishnan to TNM. Dr Chandni leads research at Kozhikode Medical College.
“Mutations will continue to occur and we may not be able to identify every mutation. The only way to prevent transmission is to be more careful, exercise physical distance, and if possible wear a double mask, “said Vinod.
Double camouflage was widely recommended since the second wave as protection against infection. Double masks use cloth masks over surgical masks, because not everyone can afford N95 masks.
“It’s up to the people to be more careful than the government to put in place strict measures like lockdowns. Besides, there is no point in seeking consolation by saying that the caseload is less in one district because the situation is so dire, “added Dr. Chandni.
Vaccine efficacy against mutated variants
According to Vinod, the COVID-19 vaccine also has properties against mutant variants. The Union Ministry of Health recently stated that Covishield and Covaxin are effective against British variants. While Covishield is less effective against South African variants, research is underway to understand the efficacy of Covaxin against the same variant. CCMB Hyderabad to study whether the COVID-19 vaccine works against the dual mutant variant
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