COVID-19

Coronavirus US: First case of the Indian variant. What risks does it have?

The first case in the US of the “double mutant” coronavirus variant, known as the Indian variant, has been discovered in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Coronavirus US: First case of the Indian variant. What risks does it have?
LUCY NICHOLSON REUTERS

California, which has been one of the worst affected states by the covid-19 pandemic in the US, now has to contend with a new variant. The double mutant variant was discovered last month by Indian health officials.

Although Indian is experiencing a dramatic recent surge, with over 103,000 new cases reported on Sunday, government officials don’t blame the new surge on the “double mutant” variant. They are currently investigating whether it may be more infectious or less affected by vaccines.

What is the Indian “double mutant” variant?

The new variant has two mutations that affect the spike protein in the virus, which it uses to penetrate human cells. This can make the virus “sticker” allowing it to be more contagious. It may also confer on the virus the potential to “allow the virus to escape the immune system" according to Virologist Shahid Jameel speaking with the BBC.

The Indian variant shares one of those spike mutations with the Californian variant, known as the L452R mutation. The other mutation, E484Q, has similarities with the E484K mutation in the South Africa and Brazil variants according to Dr Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport.

Is the Indian variant more dangerous?

The mutations could allow the variant to be better at infecting people who have already recovered from or been vaccinated against covid-19. Scientist predict that the symptoms from reinfections should be milder than the original infection. Dr. Kamil warns that if the virus can spread through reinfection, it could reach more venerable portions of the population even if herd immunity is reached. However, he added that “unlike some other variants, India's new double variant is not likely to be more deadly or more inherently transmissible, but that more data is needed to be sure.”

California set to expand vaccination eligibility

California has had almost 3.6 million cases of covid-19 with over 58,000 deaths so far according to state data. But covid-19 rates are decreasing this spring and the state has administered nearly 40 million doses of vaccine so far. California is scheduled to open vaccine eligibility to everyone over 16 beginning on 15 April.