- Coronavirus has a tendency to mutate while multiplying
- Coronavirus variants: B.1.1.7 was first identified in the United Kingdom
- B.1. 351 was identified in South Africa, P. 1 is circulating in Brazil
New Delhi: While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage the world, the virus SARS-CoV-2 which is responsible for this disease has been multiplying, mutating and spreading even faster. According to experts, since the outbreak had started, researchers across the world have found multiple variants of coronavirus that differ from the one found in Wuhan, China in December 2019 which is considered to be the ‘original’ strain. The World Health Organization (WHO), along with its partners, are currently tracking three virus variants – from the UK, South Africa and Brazil – that are circulating around the world. As part of WHO’s conversations in science series, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Epidemiologist and Technical Lead, COVID-19, explains SARS-CoV-2 variants, their transmissibility and severity.
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According to Dr Kerkhove, scientists are currently tracking changes in the virus and what these changes mean in terms of transmission, severity and potential impact on diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. While explaining about the transmissibility of the new variants of coronavirus, Dr Kerkhove said,
The first variant is B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the United Kingdom. The second variant is the B.1.351, which was first identified in South Africa. The third variant is the P. 1. It is circulating in Brazil, but it was identified among travellers arriving in Japan. So far, the information that we have is that there is increased transmissibility in the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 virus variants. This is resulting from a mutation that allows this virus variant to bind to the human cell more easily. We do not see an increase yet in transmission with the P.1, but that is currently under investigation.
On the severity of the recognised variants, Dr Kerkhove said that there are some studies from the United Kingdom that suggest that the B.1.1.7 has increased severity.
While talking about the impact of the new variant on vaccine development and if the available vaccines are effective against these virus variants, she said,
There are studies that are underway that are evaluating the effect of vaccines against these virus variants. And from the information that we have so far, the vaccines still work against these virus variants.
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How Is WHO Tracking These Variants?
According to Dr Kerkhove, WHO is tracking different mutations and variants around the world through genomic sequencing. Genome sequencing is a technique that reads and interprets genetic information found within gene. She said,
We are working with our member states and with partners around the world to increase sequencing capacity around the world so that we can identify any changes in the virus over time. This is natural virus evolution and many countries around the world have actually been sequencing viruses from the beginning of this pandemic. We are working to increase the ability to do sequencing around the world so that we can see in all countries where changes are being detected and where variants of interest are being detected.
She further explained that the variants that are important for tracking are ones that have changed in the way that the virus behaves. This means that either they may have increased transmissibility, may cause more severe disease, or may have some kind of impact on the workings of diagnostics or therapeutics and vaccines, she said.
If any of the variants have any of those changes, those are variants of concern. And we need to make sure that we study those appropriately and that any changes that are needed in our public health and social measures or in the way that we develop our diagnostics, or the vaccine composition are informed by our understanding of what those changes are, said Dr Kerkhove.
How To Protect Oneself Against The New Variants Of Coronavirus?
Dr Kerkhove recommends focusing on preventive measures taken on an individual level. She said that transmission of the virus can be reduced by following physical distancing, hand hygiene, wearing a mask, adopting respiratory etiquette like covering the mouth with a tissue paper while sneezing, opening the window when in a closed room, avoiding crowded places, staying at home when unwell, getting tested if needed and following the SOP (standard operating procedures) issued locally. She signed off by saying,
We have had many global consultations and meetings to look at these virus variants and determine if any changes are needed in our guidance. And so far, with all of the information that we have, the public health and social measures, the infection prevention and control measures in health care facilities and outside of health care facilities work against these virus variants. Take all of the steps that you can to keep yourself and your loved ones safe against SARS-CoV-2.
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NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.