India has been battling COVID-19 since the beginning of 2020. While the country bravely faced the first wave, the second and the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, is proving to be a lot harder. After the emergence of three variants, namely Alpha (B.1.1.7), Beta (B.1.351), and Gamma (P.1) in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, respectively, two more COVID variants were identified in India.

The Indian Variant Kappa

The new variants of COVID-19 were identified by the WHO as Delta (B.1.617.2) and Kappa (B.1.617.1). Both variants were first detected in India in 2020. Kappa was termed as the ‘variant of interest’ by WHO.

According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, a variant of concern means that there is evidence of the variant having increased transmissibility, more severe effects (increased hospitalisations or deaths), a significant reduction in neutralisation by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatment, or diagnostic detection failures. This definition fits the variant Delta but not Kappa. Hence WHO has not yet termed Kappa as a “variant of concern.”

Kappa variant is a double mutation variant having the E484Q and the L452R mutations. According to authorities, this variant is not a cause for concern since it is expected for the virus to go through mutations. Kappa was designated as a variant 5 months after its detection. The two variants, Delta and Kappa, were detected during a genome sequencing of 109 samples at King George medical college in Lucknow. The results were: 107 samples of Delta variant were identified, while only two samples were identified as the Kappa variant.

Nomenclature of Kappa

According to Bacteriologist Mark Pallen, experts went through several discussions regarding the nomenclature of the variants. Greek gods and pseudo-classical names were considered. Another suggestion of naming the variants as VOC1 and VOC2 came up, but were discarded as it resembled an English swear word. Later on, the variants were named after the Greek alphabets by the WHO. Kappa got its name as the tenth Greek alphabet in May 2021. WHO tweeted, “The labels do not replace existing scientific names, which convey important scientific information & will continue to be used in research. The naming system aims to prevent calling #COVID19 variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising & discriminatory”.

Is it more dangerous than other variants?

According to WHO, Kappa is “A SARS-CoV-2 variant with genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape”. The mutation L452R helps the virus escape the body’s natural immune response. Due to this reason, health experts are monitoring the Kappa variant very strictly. The WHO website says, “identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside the increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health”. Munich based GISAID maintains a database worldwide for coronavirus genomes. According to GISAID, 3,693 Kappa variant samples were submitted by India, which is by far the highest in the world.

Symptoms of Kappa

Similar symptoms compared to covid19 can be found in the Kappa variant; flu, headache, fever, prolonged cough, dry mouth, smell and taste loss etc. One epidemiologist from Griffith University Australia, Dicky Budiman, recently confirmed that several people who were infected with the Kappa variant experienced measles-like symptoms initially. He suggested that the initial symptoms of the Kappa variant are infection and rashes all over the body, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red and watery eyes. The symptoms start looking similar to other infections from other COVID-19 strains the next day.

Is the vaccine effective against Kappa?

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) stated that the Covaxin was effective for Kappa, as well as Beta and Delta variants of COVID-19. The United States National Institute of Health (NIH) also stated that Covaxin was effective for Alpha, as well as, Delta variants of COVID-19. According to a study at Oxford University by the researchers, vaccines made by AstraZeneca, namely Covishield in India, were effective against Delta and Kappa variants of COVID-19.

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