Young people could be more at risk of Indian Covid-19 variant, expert warns

A new theory about the Indian Covid-19 strain, which is currently on the loose in Victoria, has sparked concerns for the state’s younger population.

Experts have warned the mutant strain, known as B. 1.617.2, is more infectious than many other strains of the virus we have seen emerge during the pandemic, with cases of the variant now surging across the world.

Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, also noted there were “signals” that people under 21 are more likely to be infected with this variant compared to other strains of the virus.

Speaking at a briefing organised by the Science Media Centre in Germany, Professor Ferguson said it was immediately clear whether this trend was due to a biological enhancement in the mutation or whether it was a reflection on the environment in which the virus was spreading.

“There’s a hint in the data that under-21s are slightly more likely to be infected with this variant compared with other variants in recent weeks in the UK,” he said.

“Whether that reflects a change in the biology or reflects what’s called founder effects and the context - the people who came into the country with the virus and then seeding of infection in certain schools and colleges - that’s impossible to resolve at the moment.”

Cambridge University microbiologist, Professor Ravi Gupta, who also spoke at the event, said the possibility of younger people being at an increased risk from this strain shouldn’t be brushed aside.

“I do think we should take these reports seriously because that’s the first sign that you have a problem,” he said.

“Often if you wait too long for the right data it’s too late. Hopefully the countries where they’re seeing this will be studying it in a kind of rigorous way so that we can get that information.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently classified the B. 1.617.2 strain as a “variant of global concern”, with three other variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil given the same designation.

Research, published in the Global Biosecurity journal this month, also found many of those who have tested positive to the Indian variant has shown “unusual viral symptoms”.

The report, Watching Brief: The evolution and impact of COVID-19 variants B.1.1.7, B. 1.351, P. 1 and B. 1.617, said preliminary data gathered from hospitals in India suggested the virus was presenting differently when compared to other variants.

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