Mutated Coronavirus – What are we heading to ?
It is almost a year since the world is battling with coronavirus pandemic. While the upcoming vaccines and reducing number of cases was ray of hope to end of pandemic, the mutated coronavirus i.e., UK variant, known as VUI–202012/01 or lineage B.1.1.7 has posed newer challenge. Although world has swiftly acted in response to handle the new variant of coronavirus, panic has gripped in among the public. Here are some known and unknown data about the new mutated coronavirus.
What is a mutation ?
Mutation means alteration in genetic material. SARS Cov-2 or the coronavirus is a RNA virus which are made of several proteins. Any alteration in the genetic material can alter the structure of proteins and leads to change in behavior of the virus.
Mutated coronavirus – More transmissible, Less Severe?
Experts have reported that the mutated coronavirus is more transmissible but there is no evidence that this variant causes severe disease, either in terms of mortality or the seriousness of the cases of COVID-19 for those infected.
How is the mutated coronavirus UK strain different from other variants ?
An unusual number and combination of mutations define the new variant of coronavirus. The functional effects of these mutations are yet to be found. Data so far indicates that transmission rate is high due the newer strain as it shows more binding affinity thereby leading to the hypothesis that said mutation may be the reason behind this. However no strong conclusions can be drawn at the present stage.
Are there other mutations of SARS-Cov2 ?
In Nigeria, P681H mutation is reported. This mutation is also concerned to the receptor binding protein. Although WHO said this mutation I of biologic significance, researches from Redeemer’s University, Nigeria reported that they don’t have any evidence to show that P681H mutation is causing increased transmission in Nigeria.
HV 69/70 is another mutation that can result in change in the shape of spike protein. WHO has concerned that this may affects some of the RT PCR methods in detection. However, there are no strong conclusive evidences so far.
Mutations are common, thus it needs continuous monitoring of the emerging situation as the number of genome sequences of SARS-Cov2 across the world are continuously increasing.
Can the mutated coronavirus escape existing diagnostic methods ?
As per Center of Disease Control and World Health Organization, it is said that the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Assays used for detection work on multiple targets, so that even if a mutation impacts one of the targets, the other PCR targets will still work. Therefore it is said that impact of the variant on diagnostics is not anticipated to be significant.
Will the new mutation make vaccine less effective ?
The vaccines approved so far by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are polyclonal, which means they target several parts of the spike protein of coronavirus. So as to evade from vaccine, there needs to be multiple mutations that can alter the spike protein significantly. As per WHO, laboratory studies are underway to investigate the effects of mutations on efficacy of vaccines.
With the evolving situation of pandemic since an year, it is important to realize that pandemic is still not over. Health authorities are optimistic about the diagnostic tests and efficacy of vaccines will help in getting the situation under control despite the new mutated coronavirus scare continues. At personal level, every individual must follow proper precautionary measures in order to avoid getting infected from coronavirus infection.
Wearing mask, washing hands with soap and use of sanitizers will still hold good to avoid the infection. Let us not panic, instead stay cautious and continue our battle against the pandemic.