The Indian variant of the coronavirus, called B.1.617, has been present in India since October 2020. It was first identified in the state of Maharashtra, in the west of the country and in that of West Bengal, in the north- Is. Since then, it seems to have spread to the whole country. But what are its characteristics?

He has about fifteen mutations

The Indian variant was first dubbed the “double mutant“, suggesting that it would present two mutations. But it would actually contain about fifteen mutations, two of which are particularly worrying, because they would directly affect the Spike protein (S protein) of the coronavirus.

The first of them, L452R, identified for example in the Californian variant, makes the virus more transmissible. The second, E484Q, has not yet been identified in other variants, but appears to be close to the E484K mutation carried by the Brazilian and South African variants.

It carries a risk of immune escape

The E484Q mutation could give the virus an immune escape capacity. In other words, viruses carrying this mutation would have two advantages over our immune system: they would be less sensitive to currently available vaccines and would have the ability to re-infect people who have recovered from a first infection.

Studies are currently underway to clarify these two points.

It would be linked to the epidemic outbreak in India

India is currently facing an epidemic outbreak that resulted in the containment of the 20 million inhabitants of New Delhi on April 19. According to AFP data, India has recorded more than 1.4 million new cases of coronavirus in the past seven days, an increase of 64% from the previous week.

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It has not yet been demonstrated that the B.1.617 variant is responsible for this outbreak. But what the scientists noticed was that the proportion of covid cases linked to B.1.617 had increased as the incidence and the number of hospitalizations and deaths increased.

Detection of B.1.617 in India coincides with a very unfavorable epidemiological situation, characterized by a sharp increase in the incidence rate of confirmed cases of COVID-19“already detailed Public Health France, in his report of April 8.

It is present on all continents

The B.1.617 variant did not remain confined to India since it is already present on all continents. It has thus been identified in the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Spain but also in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Namibia, Canada and the United States.

To date, there is no proof of its presence in mainland France, but two cases have been detected in Guadeloupe.

It is classified as “variant to follow”

The health authorities have for the moment classified it in the category of “variants to follow”, or VOI for “variant of interest” in English. If current studies show that it is more transmissible or more virulent than the historical strain of the coronavirus, or that it is the cause of immune escape, then it will be reclassified as “variants of concern”, or ” variant of concern “.

According to Indian Ministry of Health, this variant represented in March 15 to 20% of the samples sequenced in the state of Maharashtra. And nationwide, it represents 11% of contaminations, according to site data outbreak.info.

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After India, the United Kingdom has the most B.1.617 in proportion to contamination. This is less than 1% of covid cases, but its share has increased significantly over the past three weeks, says Sharon Peacock, professor of public health and microbiology at Cambridge University at the site Science media center.

In the United Kingdom, the British variant dominates. It is already 60% more transmissible than the historic strain of the coronavirus. If the Indian variant manages to progress in this country, it means that it could be even more contagious than the British variant.