Is the new wave of Covid-19 in India due to a new variant?

Is the new wave of Covid-19 in India due to a new variant?

The arrival of a new, worrying wave of epidemics in India has amazed many experts. Some suspect that it is linked to the spread of B.1.617, a new Indian variant of Sars-Cov-2 that could prove to be more contagious and capable of evading pre-existing antibodies

(photo: SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP via Getty Images) In India, Covid returns to gallop. After months of truce, which had made the most populous nation in the world hope to have definitively defeated the epidemic, the daily cases have returned to grow rapidly, reaching the record figure of 353 thousand new infections recorded on 25 April. To avoid misunderstandings already seen, it is good to put the figures in perspective: the Indian record is purely abstract, because by commensurate the incidence of the disease to a population that largely exceeds one billion inhabitants, the numbers are in line with those seen in many others. nations of the world, and very similar to those we observe even now in our country and in other areas of the EU. However, the growth of the new cases is very rapid, and many experts are trying to understand what is driving the virus to this new, crazy race in the Indian subcontinent. The suspect number one, as always in recent months, is a new viral variant of Sars-Cov-2, identified with the initials B.1.617, which could prove to be more infectious or perhaps more resistant to vaccinations and natural immunity than who has previously defeated the disease. But as we shall see, for now it is only a matter of hypothesis.

Before talking about variants, however, it is necessary to do some calculations to clear the field of possible misunderstandings. In the past, there has often been confusion between absolute numbers and incidence during this pandemic. And to read some newspaper headlines in recent days, the risk is to do the same with this new pandemic wave in India. If it is true that the 350,000 and more new cases recorded in India are the highest number ever reached by Covid-19 in a single nation (the previous record belonged to the United States, with 300,000 new cases reported on January 8th), it is It is equally true that the concept of nation does not help to evaluate the real incidence of a disease: almost 1.4 billion people live in India, or almost four times the citizens of the entire European Union, and almost five times those of the USA. br>
Comparing the incidence of the Indian epidemic to the population of our country, the peak of new cases on 25 April slightly exceeds (just two thousand cases) the 13 thousand and odd infections reported in Italy on the same date. And if (if you don't want to) the Indian epidemic reaches the peaks seen in November in our country, we must be ready to see mind-boggling numbers, which will exceed 600,000 new cases a day. Having cleared the field of these numbers, the Indian epidemic resurgence still raises many concerns among experts, both for the undoubted humanitarian, social and health crisis that we could face if the epidemic reached the peaks of lethality and spread seen elsewhere, a pool of over a billion potential victims. Both because the country seemed to have overcome the worst, and several researches suggested that a very high proportion of the Indian population had already encountered the virus (up to 50% in some urban areas of the country), and should therefore have been protected from new infections. .

This is why in these days we have returned to talk about the so-called Indian variant, known with the acronym B.1.617, identified in the second half of 2020 and which has become dominant in areas such as Maharashtra, where in fact the new cases of Covid-19 are growing at an extremely high rate, with 67 thousand new infections registered on April 24, for a population of about 114 million inhabitants. For now, the variant has not yet been included among those recognized as variant of concern, or dangerous variants, by any health institution, and its contribution to the acceleration of the Indian epidemic has not been recognized, mainly due to the absence of data. reliable on its actual prevalence.

That said, the new variant has some features that cause concern among experts. In fact, it has a mutation identified as L452R, which affects the spike protein and could actually make the virus more infectious. And also another mutation, identified by the initials E484Q, which also in this case concerns the spike protein and is believed to potentially make the virus less susceptible to antibodies developed following a previous infection. A detail that could, at least hypothetically, explain the fact that the epidemic has returned to make itself felt despite the data that indicated a high proportion of Indians already cured of the virus and therefore potentially immune.

Currently it is only a question of hypotheses, which will take time to be confirmed or denied by the research. All that remains is to wait and observe how the Indian epidemic will evolve in the coming weeks, hoping that the numbers do not turn it into yet another health catastrophe.

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