Citing CCMB study, Andhra rules out N440K role in current Covid surge


Andhra Pradesh Health Department has stated that research data compiled by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) so far, doesn’t establish that N440K is a variant of interest, and is virulent. The clarification comes in the wake of widespread concerns over the role of this particular variant in the spread of covid in the state currently.

Experts were worried that the N440K variant, discovered by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), might be the reason why Covid patients’ condition, in Visakhapatnam and other parts of Andhra Pradesh, is going from bad to worse, in as few as three to four days.

The new strain, aptly named the AP strain, as it was identified in Kurnool, is believed to be 15 times more deadly, and stronger too, than other Indian variants.

However, in a statement issued Thursday, chairperson of the Andhra Pradesh Covid command and control centre, Dr KS Jawahar Reddy, said that while this strain was prevalent in December 2020, and January & February 2021, it had dropped drastically in March and now the share of N440K among the positives is very minimal.

Citing studies by the CCMB on samples from Andhra, Telangana, and Karnataka, the health secretary said that 250 samples are being sent every month for genome sequencing.

“Presently B.1.617 and B.1 are the major strains identified from the samples of the south India –AP, Karnataka, Telangana — from the positives of the April month data, which is very infectious and is also spreading in the younger age groups apart from the adults,” the statement read.

It has also been pointed out that although, N440K variant is shown to be efficient in cell culture system in experimental conditions, it is important to remember that just because a variant behaves a certain way in cell cultures — with no competition, and in controlled settings — it does not mean it will behave the same way in humans, or in a complicated pandemic scenario. N440K story is one such example.

“It is pertinent to note that COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update dated 25th April issued by WHO mentions about lineage B.1.617 as VOI (Variant of Interest)from India and doesn’t mention about variant N440K. If this variant is of such public health concern as reported in certain sections of media,it should have by now found place in WHO reports as well as ICMR reports,” the statement noted.

In view of the findings on N440K variant, the state health department appealed the media to be responsible in publishing material pertaining to scientific issues and avoid creating panic in the minds of public during this pandemic.