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New Coronavirus Strain

New Coronavirus Strain

Why in news?

  • According to a new study published in the journal JAMA, it has been found that some of the lingering symptoms of COVID-19 persist nine months after they come to the forefront.
  • The study found that coronavirus can cause symptoms or medical complications that go on for weeks and months even after recovery. Some of the most common long term symptoms were fatigue, loss of sense of smell and taste, brain fog or mental confusion and finding difficulty in performing daily activities such as household chores.

Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19

  • United Kingdom (UK) variant (B.1.1.7): The United Kingdom (UK) identified a variant called B.1.1.7 with a large number of mutations in the fall of 2020. This variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants. In January 2021, experts in the UK reported that this variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared to other variant viruses, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding. It has since been detected in many countries around the world. This variant was first detected in the US at the end of December 2020.
  • South Africa variant (B.1.351): In South Africa, another variant called B.1.351 emerged independently of B.1.1.7. Originally detected in early October 2020, B.1.351 shares some mutations with B.1.1.7. Cases caused by this variant have been reported in the US at the end of January 2021.
  • Brazil variant (P.1): In Brazil, a variant called P.1 emerged that was first identified in travelers from Brazil, who were tested during routine screening at an airport in Japan, in early January. This variant contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies. This variant was first detected in the US at the end of January 2021.

Why do viruses mutate? | New Coronavirus Strain

  • Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time.
  • Evolution helps organisms to change in response to certain changes in the environment.
  • Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist.
  • A mutation just means a difference; a letter change in the genome.
  • Mutations in viruses are a natural part of evolution.
  • The pressure on the virus to evolve is increased by the fact that so many millions of people have now been infected.

RNA Mutation vs DNA Mutation

  • When cells multiply, the DNA within them replicates as well, to make copies for the new cells. During replication, random errors are introduced into the new DNA.
  • While the errors in DNA virus genomes can be corrected by the error-correcting function of cells in which they replicate, there are no enzymes in cells to correct RNA errors. Therefore, RNA viruses accumulate more genetic changes (mutations) than DNA viruses.

Efficacy of Vaccine Against Emerging Variants

  • Both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have agreed that their vaccines offered reduced protection against the South African variant. The two companies are reported to be working on developing fresh vaccines to cover these variants.
  • There is also proof of several re-infections with the variant in South Africa, driven by the ability of new variants to evade immunity developed against the original virus.

Status Of The New Variant In India

  • Only the UK variant i.e. B.1.1.7 viruses have so far been reported from India and that too, in travellers.
  • There is no reported local transmission.
  • So far, the evidence so far suggests that current vaccines would still protect against the UK variant, even if with reduced efficacy.
  • Scientists from ICMR-National Institute of Virology and Bharat Biotech tested serum from recipients of their vaccine, Covaxin, against a UK variant. The results show no significant difference, suggesting that the vaccine would work equally well on the UK variant.

What can be done | New Coronavirus Strain

  • With cases fluctuating on daily basis, India should strictly implement masks and limit crowds while aggressively tracing contacts of people infected with the UK variant.
  • India must also be vigilant of people with a history of travel to South Africa since October 2020, and Brazil since December 2020.
  • The setting up of an inter-ministerial group ‘Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG)’ to increase genomic surveillance is a step in the right direction.
  • Genomic surveillance can generate a rich source of information for tracking pathogen transmission and evolution on both national and international levels.

 

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