Explained: What Is Covid’s Kappa Variant And Should You Be Worried?

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Explained: What Is Covid's Kappa Variant And Should You Be Worried?

Kappa variant is linked to the B.1.617 constellation of mutations. (Representational)

Cities across India are gradually emerging out of lockdowns necessitated by the devastating second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, and the focus is on vaccination to reach herd immunity. However, now, a series of more transmissible variants of the virus have surfaced, the Delta variant being the most worrisome, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It was first reported in India last October and has spread to over 100 countries since then, even becoming the dominant strain.

In the latest development, India has reported two cases of a new variant called Kappa. It was detected during a genome sequencing of 109 samples at King George medical college in Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow. One of the patients, a 66-year-old man, who tested positive for Kappa variant in UP’s Sant Kabir Nagar, has died, creating panic among people.

What Is The Kappa Variant And How Virulent Is It?

Kappa variant is linked to the B.1.617 constellation of mutations. It was first detected in India, and has given rise to the Delta variant, first reported in the country in October 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) named the variant Kappa in late May. This variant has been found to carry over a dozen mutations, of which two have been identified — E484Q and L452R. Due to this, Kappa is also referred to as “double mutant”.

Health experts are closely monitoring the L452R mutation, because it helps the virus escape the body’s natural immune response.

According to the Munich-based GISAID, which maintains a worldwide database of coronavirus genomes, India has so far submitted 3,693 Kappa samples. This is the highest number in the world. In the past 4 weeks, 2 samples of the variant were submitted by India.

How Does The World Health Organization (WHO) Define Kappa?

The Kappa variant has been characterised by WHO as a Variant of Interest (VOI).

This is how WHO defines a VOI:

It’s 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.

Identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.

How Are The Variants Named?

To name the variants, WHO convened a group of scientists and experts to consider easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatising labels for VOI and VOC. This group recommended using letters of the Greek Alphabet, i.e., Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Kappa, etc, which will help people from the non-scientific community.

How Effective Are Vaccines Against The Variants?

In a recent study, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has stated that Covaxin was effective for Kappa, as well as Beta and Delta variants of coronavirus. A few days ago, the United States’ National Institute of Health (NIH) also stated that Covaxin effectively neutralised both Alpha and Delta variants of coronavirus.

Last month, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University, which was published in the journal Cell, vaccines made by AstraZeneca were effective against Delta and Kappa variants of COVID-19. In India, AstraZeneca vaccine is used as Covishield.

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