Health experts in Sindh have discovered a new mutation of coronavirus’ Delta variant – Delta wild or Delta Plus.
On Monday, the province reported six cases of the “Delta wild” variant, the province’s health secretary, Qasim Soomro, confirmed.
According to the World Health Organisation, the Delta Plus/wild variant contains a new mutation in the spike protein of the novel coronavirus. It enters human cells and is called K417N.
Closely linked to the Delta variant, the new mutation has been named “Delta Plus” by the WHO’s naming system for COVID-19 variants. So far, the Delta Plus variant has been reported in relatively low numbers across the world.
“Covid-19 keeps mutating in the environment and Delta Plus/wild is its new mutation,” Dr Jamil Muqtadir, infectious diseases consultant at Karachi’s Ziauddin Hospital told SAMAA Digital. “The only way to battle the new highly mutating Covid-19 strain is to strictly follow safety measures.”
The Delta Plus/wild variant has increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells (suggesting easier entry into human cells), and a potential reduction in response to monoclonal antibodies. This means that people’s immune systems may be less effective against this variant and less responsive to life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments.
Monoclonal antibodies refer to human-made substances that act like natural antibodies. Human-made antibodies have previously been used to treat conditions such as certain cancers and some autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Multiple monoclonal antibodies have been developed by pharmaceutical companies to treat Covid-19 patients in hospitals.
The wild variant contains an additional mutation called K417N on the coronavirus spike, the same genetic mutation that was found on the Beta and Gamma variants. The Beta variant, which originated in South Africa, was linked to increased hospitalisation and deaths, while the Gamma variant, found in Brazil, was highly transmissible.
Dr Tipu Sultan, the former president of the Pakistan Medical Association, explained that the virus is tiny with a limited lifespan. “It keeps multiplying until it dies and mutates into a newer genetic makeup for better survival.”
The only way to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and new virulent strains is to follow SOPs, he stressed.
Gatherings should be limited, indoor dining should be banned, timings for markets and shops should be monitored, social distancing should be implemented and vaccination should be ramped up, Dr Sultan suggested.
He warned that if safety measures were not taken coronavirus cases will increase and Pakistan’s health system will collapse.
How to protect yourself
Vaccines aren’t a perfect defence. Some fully vaccinated people needed hospital treatment and died after catching the variant. This variant’s advantage over the Alpha one is its ability to partially evade the immune system in some people who are already vaccinated.
The guidelines to avoid exposure to the new variant are the same:
- Sanitize hands more often
- Wear a mask
- Avoid public gatherings
- Get vaccinated as soon as possible
- Avoid meeting people with symptoms
- Avoid unnecessary travel