Amid COVID-19 pandemic, talk of multiple virus strains 

Amidst coronavirus pandemic, talk of multiple virus strains 

Representative image. (Credit: iStock Photo)

A high number of coronavirus fatalities in some cities in India is making doctors wonder: are there multiple strains of the coronavirus in India?

Take the case of Indore, the coronavirus hotspot in Madhya Pradesh, where 57 people have died so far. Doctors in Indore said a more virulent strain could be at work in the city.

Samples from Indore will be sent to the Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV) to confirm doctors’ apprehensions of the strain being deadlier than other parts of the country.

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“We have a feeling the strain is definitely more virulent in Indore belt. We have discussed this with the NIV and will be sending samples for them to compare by extraction of virus genome,” said Jyoti Bindal, Dean of Government Mahatma Gandhi Memorial (MGM) Medical College.

In Gujarat, a scientist from the state-run Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (GBRC) said the novel coronavirus used for genome sequencing conducted by it was found to contain the L-type strain.

According to experts, the dominance of the L-type strain of coronavirus, more prevalent in Wuhan in China, could be behind the high mortality rate in Gujarat. However, no research has been conducted to confirm this, they said.

As of Sunday, Gujarat had 3,301 cases and 151 deaths.

Claims disputed

But experts in Bengaluru disputed the claim, saying that there are no different strains of the virus. “All of our studies so far have shown there is only one strain of the virus in India, which has a direct link to the Wuhan Sars-CoV-2 virus. All this talk of multiple strains is false,” said a virologist. 

The statement was backed by another expert on Karnataka’s Coronavirus Task Force, who added that containment measures ultimately dictate the spike in numbers.

“Virulence has little to do with the number of cases in a particular location or state. Viral spread ultimately comes down to containment,” said Dr Giridhar Babu, an epidemiologist at the Public Health Foundation of India. 

“Just because a hotspot emerges, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a more virulent strain of the virus at that location. If safety measures are not enacted in time, the diseases will proliferate within a community especially if the area is densely populated,” he added. 

Low sequencing

Dr Shashank Tripathi of the Centre for Infectious Diseases at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) pointed out that it was too early to determine if the disease in India had mutated into a more virulent form. 

“As of last week, only 28 viral genome sequences have been submitted from India for analysis. This is not enough to determine if mutation has occurred. Worldwide, for comparison, over 10,000 sequences have been submitted,” Dr Tripathi
said.

He added that he expected the number of submitted sequences to increase in the coming weeks, as other institutions, except for the National Institute of Virology (which held exclusive rights), have been granted permission to carry out the sequencing.

 

(With inputs from PTI)