BENGALURU: When was the new strain identified and how is it being observed in different parts of the world?The new variant of Covid-19 virus emerged at the end of 2020 and appears to be more contagious. The new strain is scientifically known by mix of letters and numbers: SARS-COV-2 VOC 202012/01, 501Y.V1 It was first detected in UK late September. By November, it was most dominant form of virus among people infected in South East England. Similar mutated viruses have also been seen in South Africa. These new viruses try to evolve to enhance their own replication and transmission rates. It is predicted that by Feb. 1, more than 90 per cent of Covid infections in the UK would be caused by this strain. It is also expected to become the dominant variant in the US by March.
How is the new variant transmissible?
One study has already shown the new variant to be 56 per cent more transmissible. It has a higher ‘Secondary Attack Rate’ which means each case infects more people. Also infected people appear to have a higher viral load carrying 10 to 100 times more virus in their nose and throat. Though this strain is more transmissible, it is less virulent. But because it spreads more rapidly, it could infect more people and causes more deaths.
Where was the new coronavirus detected? What are the symptoms?
The new strain is detected by genome sequencing in special Genome Consortium Lab’s recognised by the Indian government in various states. All these positive patients have been kept for observation and treatment in single rooms in designated hospitals. All their contacts have been traced and kept under quarantine for observation. Three common symptoms found were fever, cough and loss of smell and taste. The other new seven symptoms were: Fatigue, headache, muscular weakness, loss of appetite, diarrhea, mental weakness and skin rashes.
How is the recovery rate?
Though the new variant is fast spreading and infecting more people, it is found to be less virulent and people are not so sick when compared to the previous infection. The recovery rate is also very good.
Will the vaccines be effective against it?
Most of the vaccines were designed to recognise multiple features and multiple mutations that could occur. Initial results from a lab in Texas suggest that current vaccines remain effective against the new variant. Maybe it could suffer a modest reduction in efficacy by 10 to 15 per cent.
What precautions must be taken?
Don’t panic. Continue taking precautions like wearing masks, maintaining distance, washing hands regularly and limiting interactions in public places.
The author is consultant, Internal Medicine, Manipal Hospitals, Malleswaram