May 11, 2021 -- As COVID-related deaths exceed 4,000 a day in India, the World Health Organization says a coronavirus variant first found in that nation is of global concern.

"We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level," Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, told a briefing on Monday, according to Reuters. "There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility."

The variant, B.1.617, is the fourth the WHO has declared a variant of global concern, along with the ones first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil.

Many nations, including the United States, are limiting travel to and from India because of fears the Indian variant is highly transmissible. The variant was found in a patient in the San Francisco Bay Area last month.

Van Kerkhove said more information on the Indian variant will be made available soon.

"Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant and this lineage and all of the sub-lineages," she said.

The WHO’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, told the Wall Street Journal that the B.1.617 spreads quickly.

“The pattern now is that one person in the family gets it, the whole family seems to get it. This is unlike the first wave. And so I think what we’re seeing is more transmissible,” he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has defined the Indian strain as “a variant of interest.”

The variant has two mutations in the spike protein of the coronavirus that allows it to attach to cells. Indian health officials first detected the variant last month. The “double mutation” could be of concern if the variant is more transmissible or deadly, but U.S. health officials have not yet called it a “variant of concern.”

Medical Personnel Deaths Increase in India

India has reported 22.6 million COVID cases (second most in the world) and more than 246,000 deaths (third most in the world), with case counts and death counts growing by the day. On Sunday, India recorded its fourth straight day of more than 4,000 COVID-related deaths, the Canadian CBC News reported.

India is also losing a high number of medical personnel to COVID.

The leader of the Indian Medical Association told CBC that 860 medics in India have died since the pandemic began, with 166 dying in less than a month since the second wave began in India.

"One of the big challenges is for our colleagues. Nearly 750 people died last year and now within the [last] 25 days, they have lost 116 people, so we're taking responsibility on our part to support our colleagues who have sacrificed their lives in the coronavirus pandemic," J.A. Jayalal, MD, IMA national president, told the CBC.

Another complication for India is a fungal infection that affects people who have COVID-19 or who recently had it, The New York Times reported.

“The condition, known as mucormycosis, has a high mortality rate and was present in India before the pandemic,” the Times said. “It is caused by a mold that thrives in wet environments and can attack through the respiratory tract, potentially eroding facial structures and harming the brain.”

Though rare, the condition appears to affect people with weakened immune systems, like COVID patients, or people with underlying conditions. The Times said some experts think the increased use of steroids on hospitalized patients may be to blame.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

Reuters: “WHO classifies India variant as being of global concern”

Wall Street Journal: “Coronavirus Strain Found in India Is a ‘Variant of Concern,’ WHO Says”

CBC: “India loses 116 medics in 25 days as infections surge to new highs”

New York Times: “A potentially fatal fungal infection is cropping up among India’s Covid patients.”

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.