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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday classified the covid-19 variant B.1.617, first detected in India as a "Variant of interest".
This suggests that it may have mutations that would make the virus more transmittable, cause more serious illness, or reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine.
B.1.617, now the most common variant in India, has also been found in the United Kingdom and the United States, and was recently detected in Israel.
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How does the CDC define the variants of interest?
The CDC defines variants of interest as those variants with specific genetic markers that have been linked to:
changes in receptor binding
reduced neutralization by antibodies from a previous infection or vaccination
efficacy or reduced treatments
potential impact on diagnosis
or expected increase in transmissibility or severity of disease
The attributes of the variant include the potential reduction of neutralization by some monoclonal antibodies and the potential reduction of the neutralization of vaccines.
The director of the National Center for Disease Control of India, Sujeet Singh, said on Wednesday that the increase of COVID-19 cases in India in the last 1.5 months in some states shows a correlation with the increase of the variant B.1.617, although a more detailed analysis is necessary.
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"We have not yet been able to fully establish the epidemiological and clinical correlation," Singh told a Health Ministry news conference.
"This correlation is the main issue and without it we cannot link a particular increase to the variant."
CDC classifies coronavirus variants into three levels: variant of interest, variant of concern, and variant of high consequence.
Current variants of concern include:
B.1.1.7, first identified in the UK
P.1, first identified in Brazil
B.1351, first identified in South Africa
B.1.427 and B.1.429, first identified in California