The spike in coronavirus infections in Maharashtra has led to several COVID-19 restrictions being reimposed in many districts. There have also been instances of entire families falling prey to the infection in some districts.
E484k and N440k are the two virus strains that are at the center of discussion. Two experts Dr Lancelot Pinto, Consultant Pulmonologist, PD Hinduja Hospital and MRC and Dr Mala V. Kaneria, Consultant, Infectious Diseases, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, spoke to India Today and explained these mutations.
The answer to how far the mutations have seeped among the population will be known once the National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune submits its report on the new samples from Amravati, Akola and Yavatmal.
The E484K mutation, reported often as the South African SARS-CoV-2 variant, is a mutation that was observed originally in South Africa and Brazil. This mutation alters the spike protein making it easier for the virus to gain access into human cells. This makes the mutant better at evading the host's immune system, resulting in a strain that is sturdier (and has found to be more transmissible) than the existing strains, said Dr Pinto.
The N440 K is another "escape mutation". This also causes a change in the spike protein and has the potential of being similar to the E484K mutation, in leading to a sturdier virus.
"Some 440 mutations have been detected in India so far, which is not surprising," said Dr Kaneria. She said that mutations are a common phenomenon in viruses and are essential for their survival and propagation.
Dr Kaneria said that certain areas are affected by these strains due to the fact that "attention might have been diverted to controlling cases in urban areas as international travellers infected with new strains could be targeted better, thus leading to lower rates of testing and tracing in rural areas. The presence of the new highly transmissible mutation could explain why entire families are getting affected in these areas."
Maharashtra reported a jump of 5,427 cases on Thursday and Mumbai reported 736 cases. Amravati has been put under a weekend lockdown and Yavatmal has been placed under restrictions.
There will be a lockdown from Saturday evening to Monday morning in Amravati. In Yavatmal, schools and colleges will remain closed till February 28. Restaurants and wedding halls will operate but with less than 50 per cent capacity. Assembly of five or more people will not be allowed.