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N440K Covid variant not dangerous, double mutant strain ‘more infectious’: Scientists

The N440K variant of coronavirus, which wreaked havoc during the first wave of the pandemic in the country is diminishing and likely to disappear soon, scientists at CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) said.

The scientists at the CCMB institute have debunked the rumours that the N440K variant of coronavirus is dangerous than previous variants.

N440K strain, also known as B.1.36, was detected in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Telangana last year. However, its impact has suddenly dropped in March, and now “the share among the positives is very minimal”, according to CCMB institute.

Advisor to CCMB in a tweet said, “N440K variant of SARS-CoV-2 is diminishing and likely to disappear soon”.

COVID Command Centre chief Dr KS Jawahar Reddy on Thursday said, “Research data doesn’t establish that N440K is variant of interest and is very virulent”. He said, “On average around 250 samples are being sent to Centre for CCMB from the labs of the state every month, where genome sequencing of southern states — Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka — are being carried out. The research data of CCMB far does not establish that N440K is a variant of interest and is very virulent”.

The CCMB released an official statement in which it said, “Although N440K variant shown to be efficient in cell culture system in the experimental condition, it is also important to remember that just because a variant behaves a certain way in cell cultures, it does not mean it will behave the same way in humans, or a complicated pandemic scenario”.

The Hyderabad-based institute further cited World Health Organization’s weekly epidemiological reports and said that even the WHO mentioned B.1.617 as the “Variant of Interest” and did not say anything about N440K.

“If this variant (N440K) is of such public health concern, it should have by now found a place in WHO reports as well as ICMR report,” the CCMB said in an official statement.

However, currently, doctors have identified two strains B.1.617 (double mutant strain) and B.1 in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Telangana, which are said to be ‘very infectious’ and ‘easily spreading’ in the younger age groups.

Scientists at the CCMB said the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus is fast replacing the N440K variant in south India.

Divya Tej Sowpati a scientist at CCMB said while N440K was indeed a mutation of concern in South India during and after the first wave, current data show it is replaced by new variants such as B.1.617 and B117.

While comparing the data from Maharashtra, it was found that the increase in the B.1.617 is seen in February than March 2021 and there was a reduction in N440K, Sowpati noted. In Maharashtra, the second wave started a month and a half earlier than the four southern states along with the explosion of B.1.617 at the expense of N440K, Sowpati added.

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