New Delhi: At least 17 samples of a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 called ‘AY.4.2’ have been identified from India, with the earliest sample having been collected in May this year.
AY.4.2 is a sub-lineage of the Delta variant of the Covid-causing SARS-CoV-2 virus. Delta continues to be the most dominant variant circulating in India.
Seven samples of AY.4.2 were found in Andhra Pradesh, four in Kerala, two each in Karnataka and Telangana, and one each in Jammu and Kashmir and Maharashtra, according to data uploaded on GISAID, an open-access genomic database of influenza viruses and the coronavirus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic.
AY.4.2 raised concerns after it was found in increased frequency in the UK. From across the world, as many as 18,207 sequences of AY.4.2 have been uploaded on the GISAID database. Of these, 16,891 were detected in the UK alone.
But AY.4.2 has not yet been categorised as a ‘variant of concern’ — a term used to describe mutations that make the variant more infectious or deadly — by the World Health Organization (WHO).
AY.4.2 in UK
There has been a sharp rise in the frequency of the AY.4.2 variant detected in the UK since September, according to data on outbreak.info (a project by scientists at Scripps Research in the US to unify Covid-19 and SARS-CoV-2 genomic data and published research). Over the past few weeks, its frequency increased to as high as 10 per cent.
The variant carries two characteristic mutations in the spike, Y145H and A222V, both of which have been found in various other SARS-CoV-2 lineages since the beginning of the pandemic, but have remained at low frequency until now, said Francois Balloux, Professor of Computational Systems Biology and Director, UCL (University College London) Genetics Institute in a statement released on 19 October.
“The first strains carrying both mutations were sequenced in April 2020. Neither are found in any ‘variant of concern’,” said Balloux.
For example, A222V was found in the B.1.177 lineage that swept Europe in the summer of 2020, Balloux explained, but follow-up analyses pointed showed the lineage likely did not have increased transmissibility.
Y145H has not been as prevalent in the past sequences.
So far, the data from the UK does not show an increased risk of death or severe disease due to the AY.4.2 variant, compared to the Delta variant.
Vinod Scaria, a scientist at CSIR’s Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology also explained in a Twitter thread that the rise of AY.4.2 in the UK may not mean that it has a significant advantage over the Delta variant.
In the most recent briefings shared by the UK Health Security Agency, the variant AY.4.2 was designated as VUI-21OCT-01. According to the agency, as many as 22,017 VOC-21OCT-01 genomes have been found so far in the UK.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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