People Are Talking About A ‘Double Mutant’ Variant In India. What Does That Mean?



India is in the midst of a devastating second wave of COVID-19. For the past several weeks, cases and deaths have skyrocketed. The country is recording more than a quarter million cases per day.

The situation in India sounds remarkably similar to what has happened in Brazil, South Africa and now also Iran, says infectious disease scientist Kristian Andersen at Scripps Research Institute. “These countries already had a lot of people infected [in the first wave], and there was a sense that the country had reached some level of herd immunity,” he says. But then, over time, as people’s immunity waned, more contagious variants came along and sparked another surge.

“I think that’s what’s happening in India,” Andersen says.

One of the new variants circulating in India — and causing concern — is referred to as the “double mutant.” Here’s what we know about it, so far.

Why do people call this new variant the “double mutant?”

Officially, the variant is called B.1.617, but many people and media outlets (including NPR) have referred to the variant as the “double mutant.” That’s because B.1.617 has two key mutations that have cropped up in two other infamous strains.

But scientifically, the term “double mutant” makes no sense, Andersen says. “‘SARS-CoV-2 mutates all the time. So there are many double mutants all over the place. The variant in India really shouldn’t be called that.”


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