LANSING, Mich. — The India variant of COVID-19 has been found in Clinton County, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The variant of the original coronavirus was first discovered in India in October. Officials are working to determine whether the India variant is more contagious or resistant to vaccines thanks to its genetic makeup, which features a double mutation.
Mutations within a virus are common and sometimes make it less dangerous. However new variants can also make viruses more lethal or harder to vaccinate against.
The India variant has been found in at least 21 countries and is officially called B.1.617.
India crossed a milestone Wednesday of 200,000 people lost to the coronavirus as new infections surged in cities and rural areas and overwhelmed health care systems. The country on Wednesday also reported 362,757 new infections, a new global record, which raised the overall total past 17.9 million.
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Health Ministry officials and experts, however, cautioned in late March against linking the variants with an ongoing surge in new infections in India.
The virus has been mutating throughout the pandemic. Most mutations are trivial, but scientists have been investigating which ones might make the virus spread more easily or make people sicker.
The three variants first detected in South Africa, Britain and Brazil are considered the most worrisome and have been designated “variants of concern.” The three variants were found in 7% of the nearly 11,000 samples that India sequenced since Dec. 30. The most widespread of these was the more contagious variant that was detected in the U.K. last year.
The new variant found in India has two mutations in the spiky protein that the virus uses to fasten itself to cells, said Dr. Rakesh Mishra, the director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, one of the 10 research institutes sequencing the virus.
That laxity and the sluggish vaccine rollout are the most worrisome, said Dr. Vineeta Bal, of India’s National Institute of Immunology. She said that, unlike last year, the virus was spreading through richer neighborhoods, infecting families who had managed to stay protected in their homes earlier. Now, people are less fearful and letting their guard down. Masks are being worn, “but the masks are protecting people’s beards, rather than their noses,” she said.
Currently, the B1617 is not listed as a variant of concern on the CDC's website.
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