The Indian Council of Medical Research on Tuesday warned against the indiscriminate use of experimental therapies for the treatment of Covid-19 as it may lead to faster mutation of the virus, reported the Hindustan Times.
ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava pointed out that the variations in the virus could occur because of immune pressure. “The immune pressure on the virus may be related to the environment, may be related to the host, or may be related to your treatment, or may be related to other modalities which cause this pressure on the virus,” Bhargava said at a press briefing. “Therefore, it is important from the scientific community perspective also that we do not put immune pressure on the virus.”
Bhargava said that these therapies put “tremendous immune pressure” on the virus, which will cause the virus to mutate more. “Therapies that are well established should be used, and those that are not well-established, their judicious use has to happen,” the ICMR chief said.
His statement came after the discovery of a new mutant strain of the coronavirus, which scientists say is 70% more transmissible. Twenty people have so far been infected with the variant in India.
About 33,000 people from the UK, where the mutation was first discovered, have arrived in India between November 25 and December 23. The government is tracking them down and conducting RT-PCR tests for detecting the coronavirus and its UK variant.
So far, the new variant of the infection has been reported in Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Bhargava said that minor changes may occur in respiratory viruses, such as Covid-19, from time to time. “Once several drifts occur then they can become important and can become the variant as has happened in the United Kingdom, which has higher transmissibility of about 60% or so,” he said. “That is a point of concern although we are testing in India for the variations regularly.”
However, genetics experts say that not many changes are required to handle the new variant. “Nothing changes in terms of what we need to do,” Dr Anurag Agrawal, director of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research- Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi, told the English daily. “Usual precautions will work well for this variant as well.”
Clinical microbiologists also believe that the testing process will also largely remain the same. “For Covid-19 detection, the same RT-PCR testing will be conducted, and [the] government’s surveillance system is already in place that will be conducting large-scale genome sequencing to check for the new variant,” Dr Navin Kumar, head of clinical microbiology and infection prevention, Manipal Hospital, New Delhi. “So nothing essentially changes on ground.”
Besides Bhargava, critics of plasma therapy have also earlier warned against its indiscriminate use and that it could lead to further mutations of the virus.