The World Health Organization classified the highly contagious triple mutant version of COVID-19 that is spreading through India as a "variant of concern." That is the most serious classification the international organization gives to COVID-19 mutations.
According to CNBC, Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of COVID-19 response and head of emerging diseases at WHO, said the agency will provide more details after investigating the variant further but for now, it is considered to be a global health risk.
Kerkhove said the preliminary studies show the variant, known as B.1.617, is more transmissible than SARS-CoV-2, the original virus that causes COVID-19. There is also some indication it could evade the protection of our current vaccines, she said.
"And as such we are classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level," she stated, according to CNBC. "Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant in this lineage in all of the sub lineages, so we need more sequencing, targeted sequencing to be done."
The WHO said it was closely monitoring several global variants last week, including the triple-mutant Indian variant. The classification change Monday to "variant of concern" means the agency considers the B.1.617 a more serious threat globally. WHO added that current information shows our vaccines are still effective against this dangerous mutation.
The B.1.1.7 mutation originally identified in the U.K., the B.1.351 variant first detected in South Africa, and the P.1 variant identified in Brazil, are three viruses have previously been classified as variants of concern by WHO.
The B.1.617 variant is thought to be driving the current surge of infections in India. According to CNBC, the country is averaging 3,879 deaths from COVID-19 each day, according to statistics from John Hopkins University. India is experiencing a whopping 397,000 new cases per day over the past week, says Women's Health.
Experts say the "triple mutant strain" of the virus is a misnomer. This variant has many more mutations.
"It's a shorthand for three mutations that are significant," said Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "There are three mutations amongst a cluster of mutations that have been associated with increased transmissibility or immune evasion."
Kerkhove told CNBC, "no matter what virus is circulating we need to make sure that we take all the measures at hand to prevent ourselves from getting sick."
Adalja added anytime these variants begin to circulate it is important to remember vaccines still protect against serious illness and death, according to Women’s Health.
"The bottom line is that our vaccines induce not just antibodies but T-cell immunity," the expert said. "They are able to protect against the variants, even if they get around the vaccine in terms of giving someone a mild infection. The solution to these variants is to vaccinate."
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