The India Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Tuesday warned against indiscriminate use of experimental therapies in treating patients of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) , saying it puts too much immune pressure on the Sars-Cov-2 virus, causing it to mutate faster.
The warning comes in the backdrop of the discovery in the United Kingdom of a new variant of the virus that causes Covid-19. The new strain, scientists say, is more transmissible than the original one.
“The question arises why must these variations arise? These variations arise as a result of the immune pressure on the virus. The immune pressure on the virus is also related to the surroundings, is also related to the host, or is also related to your remedy, or is also related to other modalities which cause this pressure on the virus. Subsequently, it can be crucial from the scientific community perspective also that we don’t put immune pressure on the virus,” said Dr Balram Bhargava, director general, ICMR.
Dr Bhargava’s remarks came at the government press briefing on Covid-19 updates on Tuesday.
Six UK returnees have tested positive for the new UK variant of Sars-Cov-2, according to the initial results of genome sequencing of positive samples released by the Indian Sars-Cov-2 Genomics Consortium (INASCOG) labs on Tuesday.
Three of the samples that came in positive for the new UK variant were from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, two from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, and one from ICMR-National Institute Virology, Pune.
“Also, why we need to deal with judicious use of therapies which are going to benefit; whether their benefit isn’t established, we must not use those therapies another way they would put tremendous immune pressure on the virus, and the virus will have a tendency to mutate more. Therapies that are timely established must be used, and people who don’t seem to be well-established their judicious use has to happen,” Bhargava added.
Critics of convalescent plasma therapy prior to now had pointed out how its indiscriminate use could lead to remarkable mutations in the virus.
From November 25 to the nighttime of December 23, approximately 33,000 passengers disembarked at more than a few Indian airports from UK.
A majority of these passengers are being tracked and subjected by the states to Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction ( RT-PCR) tests to detect Covid-19. Of all of the samples tested, 114 samples have been found Covid-19 positive so far. These positive samples have been sent to 10 INSACOG labs for genome sequencing.
Bhargava said: “Genetic mutations arise in these respiratory viruses; and these minor drifts may arise once in a while. Once several drifts arise then they are able to turn into important and can turn into the variant as has happened in the UK, which has higher transmissibility of approximately 60% or so. That may be a point of concern even supposing we are testing in India for the variations continuously.”
Genomics experts, then again, say there isn’t much of a change relating to how the disease is handled after finding the new UK variant in India.
“It was once all the time likely. Nothing changes relating to what we wish to do. Usual precautions will work timely for this variant as timely,” said Dr Anurag Agrawal, director, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research- Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi.
Clinical microbiologists also say that the testing process will also in large part remain the same in laboratories.
“Increased transmissibility means more people will get infected and since there are no implications on the pathogenicity, which is its ability to bring disease, it isn’t much of a concern. For Covid-19 detection the same RT-PCR testing will be conducted, and government’s surveillance system is already in place that will be conducting large-scale genome sequencing to check for the new variant. So nothing essentially changes on ground,” said Dr Navin Kumar, head of clinical microbiology and infection prevention, Manipal Hospital, New Delhi.