Even as scientists are busy decoding the potential threat of the double mutant (B.1.617), a team of researchers from Hyderabad and Ghaziabad has found that the mutant N440K of the novel coronavirus is 10 1,000 times more infectious than certain strains now in circulation. The mutant N440K, first found in Andhra Pradesh’s Kurnool city, is spreading fast in some parts of the country, including AP and Telangana, if the number of infections attributed to this mutant in March and April is any indication. Already one-third of infections in both Telugu states are caused by this variant and in the second wave, its presence is rapidly increasing.
According to the experts the bottomline is — this variant is highly unpredictable.
The best way to keep it at bay is to follow COVID-appropriate behaviour of wearing good mask, keeping away from gatherings, sanitising hands regularly and staying home as far as possible, said Hema Prakash, senior microbiologist from GITAM Institute of Medical Sciences and Research.
While it is too early to state whether the new coronavirus variant discovered by CCMB (Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology) N440K, is the variant that is creating havoc in Visakhapatnam and other parts of the State, experts say the new prevalent variant, which is being called as the AP variant as it was first discovered in Kurnool, is at least 15 times more virulent than the earlier ones, and may be even stronger than the Indian variants of B1.617 and B1.618.
Divya Tej Sowpati, scientist at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, and who closely works with genome sequencing of coronavirus said that the variant was closely related to the coronavirus lineage B.1.36 and had previously been linked to a spike in cases in several states of South India. “The defining mutation is N440K, a mutation that was known since last year and widely prevalent in Andhra Pradesh. When tested in cell culture studies, they appeared to spread quite quickly but that’s not how it always plays out in the real world,” he said in a phone conversation.
“N440K is slowly dying out and was fast being replaced by two other variants — B.1.1.7 and B.1.617 in almost all southern states including Kerala,” said Vinod Scaria, scientist at the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi. The N440K had been associated with cases of reinfection in Delhi and possibly helped the coronavirus bind tighter to lung cells. B.1.1.7 and B.1.617 are the ‘UK Variant’ and the Indian variant, also known as the ‘double mutant.’