Warning of severe symptoms, Pune’s National Institute of Virology has found a new Covid-19 variant — B.18.104.22.168 — through genome sequencing of samples from international travellers from the United Kingdom and Brazil.
According to a report in Times of India, the findings of the pathogenicity evaluation show increased disease severity and point towards the need for screening of vaccine efficacy. The findings of the pre-print study have been published online on bioRxiv.
The new variant can lead to body weight loss, viral replication in the respiratory tract, lung lesions and was found to cause severe lung pathology in infected Syrian hamster model, the study said. However, two-dose Covaxin regimen has shown to significantly boost antibody and neutralising efficacy against the variant. This was found in an uncorrected manuscript of a separate study by NIV.
The study on the new variant pointed towards the necessity of genomic surveillance and characterisation of SARS-CoV-2 variants that will help to understand their pathogenicity and immune escape potential for preparedness of counter-measures.
According to the report, genome sequencing labs are looking at mutants, which have significant potential of severely affecting disease transmission. Currently, 10 national labs under Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing Consortia have sequenced around 30,000 samples. The government plans to ramp up genome sequencing and recently added 18 more labs to the consortium.
The detection of the new variant comes a week after the WHO said that only one strain of the Covid-19 Delta variant first detected in India was now considered “of concern”, while two other strains had been downgraded.
The B.1.617 variant of the virus, which has in part been blamed for India’s explosive outbreak, has been dubbed a triple mutant variant since it is split into three lineages.
The UN health agency last month declared the entire strain a “variant of concern”, or VOC, but on June 2, it said only one of the sub-lineages deserved that label. “It has become evident that greater public health risks are currently associated with B.1.617.2, while lower rates of transmission of other lineages have been observed,” the World Health Organization said in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic.