At a time when the world is fighting its biggest battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, a new variant has become a major cause of concern as it is spreading rapidly among the masses and can jeopardize the efforts made so far to curb the disease. The B1617 Covid-19 variant is spreading worldwide at a ‘frightening speed’ and could aggravate the pandemic — particularly in countries with low vaccination rates. According to the latest assessment of the virus by experts, the B1617 strain is becoming increasingly dominant worldwide and this will not be the last time that the virus mutates.

“What is frightening is the speed at which this variant is able to spread and circulate widely within the community, often surpassing the capability of contact-tracing units to track and isolate exposed contacts to break the transmission chains,” a Professor Teo Yik Ying, Dean of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, was quoted as saying. “It has the potential to unleash a bigger pandemic storm than the world has previously seen,” Ying added.

B1617 — Know Everything About This COVID-19 Variant

B1617 has mutated to spread more easily from person to person and may dampen the protection conferred by vaccines as well as natural infection, though only slightly, experts say. The new variant contains mutations from two separate virus variants, namely E484Q and L452R. The E484Q mutation is also found in both UK and South African variants, the L452R mutation in the California strain. According to experts, these two mutations appear to make the new variant more infectious as well as enable it to easily surpass immune defenses.

The variant, which was first detected in India in October 2020, is now present in more than 50 countries and is surpassing other strains causing infections, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Earlier this month, the global health body declared it as a “variant of global concern”.

The New COVID-19 Variant Is Two Times More Transmissible

The strain is 1.5 times to two times more transmissible than the strain that first appeared in Wuhan 18 months ago. There are three versions of B1617 — B16171, B16172, and B16173. The second version is the most relevant as it has appeared to overtake B16171 in local cases as well as those reported globally. The third version, B16173, is rare, the report said.

While it remains unclear if B1617 causes more serious illness or deaths, the best weapon remains widespread vaccination. Vaccinated individuals have a reduced chance of being infected, and a much lower likelihood of developing severe symptoms even if they are infected, Teo said.

Can Vaccines Keep You Protected?

Various researches have shown that the Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines are effective against B1617. However, most countries, unfortunately, are lagging far behind in vaccinating their people as global inequity in vaccine supplies and distribution persists.

This means a higher chance of B1617 creeping into countries previously minimally affected by Covid-19, Professor Dale Fisher, chair of the WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, was quoted as saying.

“These countries, such as Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, are more vulnerable due to the low vaccination rates, leaving them more susceptible to severe disease,” Fisher said.

This post first appeared on The Health Site

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