The Covid-19 virus and its new mutations have been the talk of the town since its insurgence last year.
Doctors and scientists all over the world have been working hard to identify key differences between different mutant strands and have tried to explain to people how these new mutant strands work and how much we should worry about them.
Dr Jinendra Jain, consultant physician at Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai, in an interview with Healthshots, has tried to explain this phenomenon in simple terms to help people understand everything that we need to know about new strains of the coronavirus.
Viruses are continuously changing as a result of genetic selection. They undergo subtle genetic changes through mutation and major genetic changes through recombination.
Mutation occurs when an error is incorporated in the viral genome. Recombination occurs when co-infecting viruses exchange genetic information, creating a novel virus, e.g. the novel Coronavirus.
According to Dr Jinendra, the double mutant strain found in most Covid-19 affected patients in India, is the combination of two mutant strains of the virus.
Subtle mutations are continuously occurring inside the virus's genome which most of the time do not play any significant part in changing the characteristics of the virus. But, double or triple mutations inside the virus may cause a significant change in the way these viruses behave.
In the case of the new strands of the coronavirus, the virus is found to be more infective than the previous virus but not necessarily that severe, said Dr Jain.
Dr Jain said, "We do not yet know whether the virus has a different effect on the immunity of the human body than the previous wild virus found last year."
When asked about the process of identification of the infection strand and how people will be sure of the mutation they are affected by, Dr Jain said that the mutation can only be identified by genome sequencing.
In this regard Dr Jain said, "The type of mutation cannot be identified by clinical conditions, sign-symptoms or PCR tests, and can only be identified by genome sequencing."
"It does not make any sense to go for genome sequencing as it only detects the mutation type but does not help in the management and treatment of the patient. It is for research purposes only and is not for any clinical purpose."
Asked about the virus surge among young people, Dr Jain said official data does not suggest that young people are getting infected more by the virus than older people. Rather, the infection rate is the same throughout the entire age spectrum.
Dr Jain said, "As the previous year had lockdowns, people could not go out of their homes and thus avoided contagion through isolation. This year as there were no lockdowns imposed, young people had to go out to earn a living and support their families."
"As a result of this, we see more young people contracting the virus this year as they had to go out and work and were exposed to the virus more than the year prior. So it is not true that that this new viral mutation tends to infect more young people than older people," added Dr Jain.
In regards to the infections after Covid-19 vaccination and the efficacy of the vaccines against the new strands, Dr Jain said individuals who contracted the virus after getting the first dose, or people who generated monoclonal antibodies or received plasma therapy, must delay their second dose by 4 to 6 weeks but should get vaccinated.
Dr Jain said, "The vaccines that we have right now will fight both the old and newly mutated virus. There are data that suggest the vaccines we have right now in India, i.e. Covishield and Covaxin, are effective on the new mutant strands."
"So we must get vaccinated as soon as possible or when we are eligible," added Dr Jain.
Asked about the new tips and tricks to combat the new strains of the virus, Dr Jain said, "The tips and tricks to combat the new mutant strands are the same as the old ones. The new mutations did not bring any significant change to the way the virus behaves."
"We must follow the traditional procedures of proper sanitation, hygiene, and social distancing, to combat the virus," added Dr Jain.