It’s been more than a year since the deadly coronavirus wreaked havoc in India, and even after several efforts to contain the spread of it, the second wave of the virus is currently spreading like wildfire in the nation. India, which is the fourth-worst covid-hit country, currently has over 13 million cases.
While the most common symptoms remain dry cough, fever, loss of taste, and smell, there has been evidence of the mutated forms of the virus producing different symptoms and reportedly being more transmissible.
What Are There New Symptoms?
Some studies have established that the virus can quickly escape immune defences present along some vital organs, and unleash an attack in more impactful ways.
Fever, which is not predominantly seen with all cases carrying the original strain is considered to be a more severely seen symptom in cases tested positive for the new mutation.
Reports have also stated that certain other symptoms such as hearing loss, muscle pain, skin infections and distorted vision stomach upset and conjuctivitis, which are otherwise scarcely observed may be more common with the newer strains.
"Nowadays, we are seeing new covid strain, and some newer symptoms are found in patients like fever, pain in muscles, dry and persistent cough, and loss of smell and taste. In addition to conjunctivitis, sore throat, headache, rashes, upset stomach, and discolouration of fingers and toes,” Dr Shuchin Bajaj, Founder and Director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals told ANI.
Is the Virus More Transmissible this Time?
According to new studies, the UK variant or the Kent variant, B.1.1.7, spreads more easily and quickly than other variants.
In an interview with Times of India, AIIMS director Randeep Guleria said, "We have observed that one primary patient (index case) is able to affect more people this time. During the earlier peak, one patient could spread the disease to 30-40% of his or her contacts. This time, it has been observed that 80-90% of people who come in contact with a patient turn positive.”
The UK-based New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) recently reported that the Kent variant may be up to 70 per cent more deadly than previous strains.
Health experts have cited that those who test positive for the variant are more likely to report persistent cough, tiredness, muscle aches, sore throat and fever compared to those who have the original strain.
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 were reported in the US at the end of January 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Will vaccines need to be reconfigured?
A recent study also revealed that the Kent strain has acquired a mutation similar to the South African variant – making it more likely to resist vaccines.
Vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have already announced that they are working to modify their vaccines, and possibly to create booster shots, to better protect against the South African variant.
According to various reports, the three variants carry the same genetic mutation – E484K – that allows it to evade the immune defences in the body, leading to infection. However, the mutated variants are comparatively new and under radar by various health experts and scientists, so, it may take a while for us to know the exact symptoms of these variants.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has found a total of 192 Covid-19 cases of the new variants of mutated SARS-CoV-2 in the last two months, including four from the variant emerging in South Africa and one from the Brazilian variant.
How Difficult is Tweaking Vaccines?
While theoretically it seems an easy task to change chemical composition of vaccines to suit needs, more than 4-5 changes in the original atomic structure may take months.
Why is it Spreading at Such an Alarming Rate?
A report by ANI quoted Dr Gauri Agarwal, Founder-Director, Genestrings Diagnostic Centre where she talked about the factors that may have led to the rise in the number of cases and said, “The primary reason for the rise in cases is a rampant violation of COVID protocols. From the end of last year, we have seen how people have been careless about following COVID protocols and this rise in cases is no surprise. The other factor can be the various mutations of the virus, some of which may have been more transmissible than others. However, a more in-depth understanding of the mutant strains and their virulence is needed by conducting genome sequencing of more samples.”
There can be several reasons for this sudden spike such as lack of adherence to COVID protocol by people in general, a more transmissible mutation in the virus, to mention a few.
Despite the intensity of the new strain, people also need to exercise continued caution by following the successful protocols of hand sanitization, masking, and social distancing as a means to curtail the second wave of the virus.