The "double mutant" strain of the coronavirus behind the ongoing surge in Covid-19 cases in India has now been detected in the US. The first confirmed infection was reported on Monday.
It was found in a patient tested by Stanford Health Care Clinical Virology Laboratory in California, according to news reports that cited the organisation's mediaperson. The case was detected in the San Francisco Bay Area, as reported by The Hill.
The new strain of the coronavirus is called "double mutant" because it carries two mutations of the pathogen that triggered the pandemic.
It has hit the US amid growing concerns about an impending surge fuelled by new and emerging variations and complacency engendered by high rates of vaccination - more than 3 million a day recently, with a record of 4 million last Saturday - being reported from around the country.
"This Indian variant contains two mutations in the same virus for the first time, previously seen on separate variants," Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases expert at University of California San Francisco, told San Francisco Chronicle.
The new strain is said to be responsible for the surge in new daily cases seen since over the past few weeks. From around 9,100 on February 15, the number of new infections shot up in a matters of weeks to103,000 on April 4, according to the US-based Johns Hopkins University's Covid-19 tracker.
A response was awaited from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to a request for confirmation of reports about the new strain from India and for details about the nature of the threat posed by it, and whether it was resistant to the three vaccines being administered in the US now - Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
The CDC has been tracking new and emerging mutations of the coronavirus and it currently has five of them on its radar, according to an April 2 post on its website.
Since December 2020, it has been monitoring B.1.1.7, a Covid-19 variant first detected in the UK. In January, it added B.1.351 to the list, a strain first detected in South Africa. Later that month, the CDC added P.1 to the list, a Brazilian strain first detected in Japan. In March, two more strains were added to the list, namely B.1.427 and B.1.429.
The CDC, the key US federal agency that deals with health crises, says the above variants generally seem to "spread more easily and quickly than other variants" and could cause increased cases. That, in turn, could lead to more hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 by straining available resources.
The vaccines currently in use in the US are known to be effective against these variants. "So far, studies suggest that antibodies generated through vaccination with currently authorised vaccines recognise these variants," the CDC said. "This is being closely investigated and more studies are underway".