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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: Is the highly infectious and 'immune evasive strain N440K transmission happening in Odisha?

What compels the corona watchers to think so is during the last 7-days, despite a drop in testing of samples, the daily positive rate has maintained an upward trend.

Consider the two instances: On March 30, the number of sample tests conducted was down to 21.64 k from 26.35k on March 29, but the daily positive rate (DPR) increased to 0.99 per cent from 0.78 per cent.

Similarly, on April 2, the total sample tests dipped to 26.7k from 30.7k tests the previous day. However, the DPR increased to 1.69 per cent from 1.5 per cent yesterday.

WHAT IS THE LINK?

As per the Union Health Ministry data, the infection in the second wave in the country is faster. Moreover, as per a report published in the Biomedical Journal of Scientific and Technical Research (BJSTR), the CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB) team in India has identified 19 genetic variants of the SARS-CoV-2. Out of the 19, one in particular known as the S: N440K variant has been reported in 2.1 per cent of the gene sequences in India. (see the image below)

Significantly, as per the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), the genome sequencing state-wise has detected the presence of the 'mutant of concern' - the N440k - in 5 samples in Odisha. The same sequencing data revealed the detection of N440k in 8 samples in  Chhattisgarh.

ODISHA GENOME SEQUENCING REPORT

As per data with the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, a total of 6,837 genomes have been sequenced in the country to date.

In Odisha, genome sequencing has been done for only 401 samples, when the Union Government’s Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) initiative aims to sequence five per cent of all Covid positive cases - that means over 17 k samples from the current positive tally of over 2.42 lakh in the State.

Not only Odisha, the 5 per cent target has not been either accomplished nationally or for any state to date.

As per health experts, more genome sequencing will only tell whether N440k is the driving force behind the surge in Odisha and Chhattisgarh (only 21 genome sequencing completed to date). In Punjab, genome sequencing revealed the presence of UK strain in 81 per cent of new cases.

CCMB HYDERABAD FINDINGS ON N440K

As per the genomic study of the SARS-CoV-2 virus by the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), the virus variant N440K is spreading a lot more in South India. The 'mutant of concern' has been found in Yavatmal (Maharashtra) and in Kerala too. In Andhra Pradesh, the strain was found in 33 per cent of samples (336) sequenced.

WHY N440K IS A MUTANT OF CONCERN?

Consider the CSIR-IGIB findings.

"A total of 19 genetic variants of the SARS-CoV-2 have been found in India that have evolved to evade neutralising antibodies. Out of the 19 immune escape variants in India, the S:N440K variant, which appears to have evolved during the recent months, induces re-infection. A case of re-infection in a 28-year-old female healthcare worker has made us believe that the new mutant strain confers resistance to the neutralising antibodies."

THE BIG TAKEAWAY: Since the variant confers resistance to the antibodies released by the human body to neutralise the antigens of the SARS-nCoV2, there could be the possibility that vaccinated individuals can see re-infection with Covid-19.

PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE

Listen to what the lead author of the CCMB study (published in February) Dr Surabhi Srivastava says,

“Successful development and administration of vaccines are promising. But other non-therapeutic interventions such as masks and physical distancing will be most effective in curbing further spread. Because only a lesser spread of the virus will decrease the scope for emergence and accumulation of harmful mutants.” 

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