The Stanford Clinical Virology Lab, through genomic sequencing, has identified and confirmed one case of the emerging variant, which originated in India, according to a spokesperson for Stanford Health Care on Sunday. At least seven presumed cases of the Indian variant were also found.
The variant is being labeled as the “double mutant” because it carries two mutations in the virus that helps it latch onto cells, reports said.
“If you are in an elevator with someone that is infected with the variant you are more likely to be infected by that variant,” said Stanford Clinical Virology Lab Director, Dr. Ben Pinsky, according to FOX 2 of the San Francisco Bay Area.
UCSF’s Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert, called the variant “less forgiving.”
He noted that the variant could be more infectious because it accounts for 20% of cases in the hard-hit Indian state of Maharashtra. Cases there have increased 50% within the last week, he said.
“It also makes sense that it will be more transmissible from a biological perspective as the two mutations act at the receptor-binding domain of the virus, but there have been no official transmission studies to date,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Chin-Hong added that it’s too early to know if the variant — first detected by Indian health officials this year — can cause reinfections or is more resistant to vaccine antibodies. One of the mutations was similar to a variant that was first detected in California. Another mutation was found on variants that were first detected in Brazil and South Africa.
“This Indian variant contains two mutations in the same virus for the first time, previously seen on separate variants,” Chin-Hong said. “Since we know that the domain affected is the part that the virus uses to enter the body, and that the California variant is already potentially more resistant to some vaccine antibodies, it seems to reason that there is a chance that the Indian variant may do that too.”
While Chin-Hong said studies have yet to confirm this, he felt “optimistic” vaccinations could work based on the known efficacy against variants originating from South Africa and California. Chin-Hong added that the UK Variant, B.1.1.7, is more transmissible.
“I, in my heart of hearts, believe that the vaccines will still be effective against this new Indian variant based on some of the information we’ve been getting about the even scary variants, like the South Africa variant, and how Pfizer’s vaccine is actually effective against it,” Chin-Hong told FOX 2. “The sun is shining over California, our cases are down. We’ve made great progress. But, we need to be safe, we need to keep our guard up.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report