A series of tweets, put out by a scientist from Israel has sent the medical fraternity and pandemic observers into a tizzy. Israeli scientist Dr Shay Fleishon said that about ten states in India have detected a new sub-variant of coronavirus BA.2.75.
Dr Shay Fleishon, with the Central Virology Laboratory at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer tweeted saying that “85 sequences have been uploaded so far, mainly from India (from 10 states) and 7 other countries. No transmission could be tracked based on sequences outside India yet.”
BA.2.75 update 02.07.2022
85 sequences have been uploaded so far, mainly from India (from 10 states) and 7 other countries.
No transmission could be tracked based on sequences outside India yet.
— shay fleishon (@shay_fleishon) July 2, 2022
He also gave a break up of these cases, saying as of July 2, 2022, 27 cases were reported in Maharasthra, 13 in West Bengal, one each in Delhi, Jammu and Uttar Pradesh, six in Haryana, three in Himachal Pradesh, 10 in Karnataka, five in Madhya Pradesh and two in Telangana. A total of 69 cases of the new subtype have been seen in India.
The Nextstrain (open source platform on genomic data) said besides India, seven other countries have reported the new variant. Shay Fleishon wrote on Twitter that it was for the first time that second generation variants were spread to other countries outside of the region where they were detected.
The fact that such a divergent 2nd gen variant can succeed inter-host is alarming. It means that if BA.2.75 will not succeed, and even if it will, other 2nd gen might grow better over time.
— shay fleishon (@shay_fleishon) July 2, 2022
He said, “Will BA.2.75 be the next dominant variant? Too soon to tell. Is BA.2.75 alarming? Yep. Because it may imply for a trend to come.”
WHAT IS BA.2.75 CORONA VARIANT?
A virologist at the Imperial Department of Infectious Diseases has warned that this is a variant keeping an eye on. Dr Tom Peacock said on Twitter, “Surveillence minded folks – worth keeping a close eye on BA.2.75 – lots of spike mutations, probable second generation variant, apparent rapid growth and wide geographical spread.”
Surveillence minded folks – worth keeping a close eye on BA.2.75 – lots of spike mutations, probable second generation variant, apparent rapid growth and wide geographical spread…https://t.co/sY0edKoQHX
— Tom Peacock (@PeacockFlu) June 30, 2022
It is second generation subtype of Omicron the fifth variant of concern as designated by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
WHAT IS INDIA SAYING?
The top Scientist from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Dr Samiran Panda told India today that the findings were not unusual. “Variants will happen while the virus is lingering. Changed forms are expected. Mutations are known to happen. Nothing unusual. Expected to happen,” Dr Samiran Panda said. (sic)
He also allayed fears, saying that one needs to appreciate that right now it isn’t causing more hospitalisation or severe infection.
“It is early to say to BA.2.75 is causing a surge. Firstly there is no surge, it is a small uptick,” he said.
“Observing swift evolution of many sub lineages of BA.2 in India including BA.2.75, is it possible that BA.5 stands less of chance in spreading here? Are these competing with each other? Virologists here, what do you think?” tweeted well know epidemiologist, Professor Giridhar Babu.
NOTHING MUCH TO WORRY, SAYS SPECIALIST
Dr Ishwar Gilada, Infectious Disease specialist, told India Today, “Omicron has new sub-variants BA.2.74, BA.2.75 and BA.2.76. Of these, BA.2.75 has shown a wider presence than the other two. Currently, BA.2.38 is more common and almost 80% of infections are with this sub variant. 10% are BA.2 and the remaining are BA.4, BA.5, BA.2.75 etc.”
“BA.2.75 has been seen in 10 Indian states and states wide apart, with Maharashtra dominating with 27, followed by WB 13, Karnataka 10 and Madhya Pradesh 7. With BA.2.75 the most important issue is it has 9 mutations, if which 5 are in N terminal domain of the spine protein and that is responsible for viruses attaching to the host cells,”Dr Ishwar Gilada further added.
Dr Ishwar Gilada said these are new mutations and therefore has immune escape both to the natural infection as well as. Hence, it becomes a point of concern.
“However, as long as it doesn’t end up in creating oxygen demand and bed demand and more deaths, there is nothing much to worry about,” the specialist said.
‘LIMITED DATA ON BA.2.75 FOUND’
Dr Rajeev Jayadevan said, “BA.2.75 has been detected in small numbers from parts of India. At this time, we have limited data on its clinical impact, but it has generated sufficient interest in domain experts across the world. The reason for this interest is that this appears to be what can be called a “second generation variant”, which basically is a souped up version of an already fit variant.”
“As we know, virus evolution can occur either on a linear scale that is in a slow stepwise progression, or rapidly in numerous steps, where variants harbouring large numbers of mutations suddenly appear suddenly out of nowhere. Omicron was one such variant,” he added.
“BA.2.75 might have appeared through such a mechanism, and the commonest venue is an immuno-suppressed individual where a virus can live for as long as a year or two, getting all the time to accumulate the mutations it needs to spread more efficiently and escape existing immunity. That being said, the presence of mutations alone does not necessarily make a variant successful. One really needs to see how it does on the clinical and epidemiological side before we say that this is a variant of concern, “Dr Rajeev Jayadevan explained.
‘VIRUS SWIFTLY ADAPTING’
“For instance, is this variant rapidly displacing existing variants, is it spreading faster than what is already present, and is it causing a different phenotype or disease pattern than was observed previously?
When asked about how fast the variant is displacing existing variants or whether it is spreading faster or causing a different phenotype or disease pattern than was observed previously, Dr Rajeev Jayadevan said, “The biggest revelation in the past six months or so has been that this virus is swiftly adapting to escape all forms of prior immunity – whether it is from past infection vaccination boosters or even four doses.”
“The duration of production of additional shots has decreased to approximately two or three months, even that period is not bullet-proof. It is not clear whether variant-specific vaccines will do better, as results so far have been mixed. Therefore, we don’t have an option but to continue air hygiene measures such as indoor masking and improving indoor ventilation,” he added.