#ReadToKnow: The AY.4.2 Variant Puts India On High Alert

This variant has become the recent worry for officials, but what do we know about it? And how much worried should we be?

What Happened?

At least 18–20 sequences of the sub-lineage of the Delta — AY.4.2 — have been identified from more than 19,000 samples collected from Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Jammu Kashmir between May-end and mid-September in 2021.

In a press conference in New Delhi today, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said, as mentioned by TIMES NOW, “A team is investigating the new Covid-19 variant AY.4.2… ICMR and NCDC teams study and analyse the different variants. It would be wrong to say how contagious it is now. Let the variant be investigated.”

About The Variant

AY.4.2 is a descendant of the Delta variant of COVID-19. The AY.4.2 sub-lineage consists of 2 mutations in its spike protein — A222V and Y145H. The United Kingdom accounts for 96% cases of AY.4.2, followed by Denmark and Germany at 1% each, according to cov-lineages.org. The variant has also been reported in the U.S. and Israel. Last week, Russia too reported “isolated cases” of the Delta sub-variant.

Professor Francois Balloux, director of the University College London (UCL) Genetics Institute tweeted saying that the spike protein mutations it exhibits have been found in other variants, too, but none of those was a variant of concern.

Even though it has not been proven to be significantly more transmissible, the AY.4.2’s secondary attack rate — the probability of an infection occurring in a group of people — in UK household settings is 12.4%. For the delta variant, it is 11.1%. This means that in the same household, there are higher chances of an infection spreading if it has the AY.4.2 mutation.

For non-household settings, its secondary attack rate is almost similar to the original, possibly why the number of cases with AY.4.2 has not increased yet. Meaghan Hill, an epidemiologist at the UK’s HSA tweeted saying, it is likely that AY.4.2 may turn out to be slightly more transmissible, “slowly replacing delta infections” over the next few months.

Is It More Deadly?

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said, though evidence on AY.4.2 is still emerging, as of now, it doesn’t appear to cause more severe diseases. ICMR’s scientist Dr Samiran Panda told News18.com that, “The new delta variant seems to be highly transmissible but not fatal, as such. It can be more transmissible (or infectious) considering that the virus does that for its own survival as it needs more hosts (body of human being). However, it is difficult to say that it will be more virulent.”

Experts at the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) said they have not noted any spike in Covid-19 cases due to AY-4.2. Dr Anurag Agrawal, director of CSIR-Institute of Integrative and Genomic Biology, told The Indian Express, “AY.4.2 is very uncommon in India. The numbers are very low and not worrisome.”

In The End

The emergence of new variants shows how the pandemic is far from over. Wearing masks will help control the spread of the virus, and vaccines might reduce hospitalisation and death. In order to avoid a situation like the one in the UK, the Indian government is keeping a close watch on the cases. We should also do our part, and take precautions, like washing our hands, maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, and taking the vaccines. If we become lethargic, we might encounter another wave, which will affect the global economic recovery. Let’s do our best and fight this pandemic together.

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