The coronavirus pandemic is now one year old, however, now the Wuhan virus has been mutating – changing shape, picking pace and infecting more people.
Virus mutations have been common. The Wuhan virus has mutated some 4,000 times, however, the world heard about it last month because one particular mutation was dangerous – called the UK strain. The new strain spreads faster and it has reached at least 13 countries including India.
The latest cases of the mutated UK strain is in India. The mutation has been found in six patients, all of them recently returned from the United Kingdom. The vaccines are round the corner but the threat is not past. This is not the time to let your guard down. The UK mutation is 70 per cent more infectious and more dangerous.
There were six cases of the UK strain in India even after India banned flights from the UK. These six people had already landed in India before the flight ban – they are all Indian citizens. Three of them are in Bengaluru, two in Hyderabad and one in Pune – all of them are in single room isolation.
Those who came in contact with them have been quarantined.
The UK strain is not deadlier but it spreads faster. The Wuhan virus has undergone 17 different changes and turned into what is called the UK variant. These 17 changes make it more infectious, and it spreads faster from one person to another. Also, from one cell to another.
The mutated virus spreads more quickly in the human body and it takes over a cell, replicates, enters another cell and repeats at a fast pace. It can potentially overwhelm your immune response make it harder for our body to fight back which means, more serious cases.
It could even mean more deaths and children and young people may be more vulnerable to this infection. Stepping up surveillance and contact tracing is one of the solutions. Reports say 33,000 passengers arrived from the UK between November 25 and December 23.
State governments across India are now reaching out to these passengers. They are being given swab tests and their contacts are also being tested. India however is finally looking at good news with fewer cases, fewer deaths. The pandemic has finally been controlled.
New infections fell to their lowest in more than six months. New cases have dropped below 20,000 for the second time in seven days but India isn’t letting its guard down. The government has issued new guidelines with states and Union territories asked to keep a strict vigil.
A lot of hope is riding on vaccines. The good news is they will which is what most vaccine makers claim. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is being given in the US, UK and Europe. The company says the vaccine will be effective, if needed, they can modify it within six weeks the same is the case with the Oxford vaccine.
The Oxford vaccine makers AstraZeneca says the vaccine should be effective against mutations. The Oxford vaccine is yet to be approved by regulators for emergency use. It is the frontrunner in India. Indian drug regulators are reviewing the trial data of the Oxford vaccine with the rollout expected in January.
India has already conducted dry runs in four states. The Serum Institute has the license to supply the Oxford shots in India. Reports say the company has already made 40 to 50 million dozes also reviewing the Oxford shot is the United Kingdom.
Reports say London could give the green light by Thursday and India should follow soon after but it will be a while before everyone gets a shot. In the meantime wear your mask, wash your hands, avoid crowded spaces and maintain social distancing.
The best strategies are the simplest as legendary molecular biologist Joshua Lederberg described humanity’s struggle against new diseases: “It’s our wits versus their genes”.
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