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Scientists study gene variations in Covid-hit children in Karnataka

The move to study genome sequences of the virus that infected children in the second wave is part of efforts to prepare for the next wave of infections by understanding if any new variants of the virus are affecting children.

SCIENTISTS IN Karnataka are studying genomic sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus among children infected in the second wave in order to ascertain if infections are being caused by the existing variants of the virus or newer ones.

A technical advisory committee advising the state government on the Covid-19 crisis has tasked the nodal officer for genome sequencing in the state, Prof V Ravi, a former professor of virology, to study gene sequences in samples of children who tested positive for Covid. “Samples are now being collected and they need to be processed. We should have data and information in about 15 days,” he said.

“We have discussed the issue of infections among children and some additional work is required to study the genomic sequencing of viruses from samples of children,” said Prof M K Sudarshan, a public health expert and chairman of the state technical advisory committee.

The move to study genome sequences of the virus that infected children in the second wave is part of efforts to prepare for the next wave of infections by understanding if any new variants of the virus are affecting children.

The researchers are looking at virus gene sequences from samples of children who have tested positive and have been severely infected in groups like international travellers, local infection clusters and also in breakthrough infections among those who may be vaccinated.

“The virus is constantly mutating. Viruses also follow the principle of survival of the fittest and they will go on mutating and the immune escape variant will be selected in the population,” Prof Ravi said.

As much as 10 per cent of those who have tested positive in Karnataka over the first and second waves have been children and young adults in the 0-19 age group and the case fatality rate in the group is 0.1 percent in the state. However, a 4 per cent increase in mortality in the 0-9 age group and a 6 per cent increase in the 10-19 group has been recorded between the first and second waves.

On June 7, the Karnataka health department set up an eight-member Genomic Surveillance Committee under the leadership of Prof Ravi “for developing effective control and preventive measures” for Covid-l9. Among the key tasks assigned to the committee is to carry out “Covid-19 genome sequencing to study virus variations” and “in-depth analysis of genome surveillance and vaccination to identify immune escape versions of the virus and their spread”.

“My greatest fear for the third wave is that it will affect children. It is simple common sense. We are immunising the elderly, the middle aged are being immunised and immunisation has started for the young but there is no vaccine for children. The virus will always find a susceptible host. History has taught us that,” Prof Ravi said in a talk recently.

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