by LYDIA NATHAN / graphic by MZUKRI MOHAMAD
MALAYSIA needs to put in more effort into monitoring Covid-19 variants that are entering the country’s borders since this has now proven to have an impact on epidemiology.
Although a case of the UK B117 variant was detected on Jan 11, 2021 in a patient who had been to the UK last month, Dr Noor Hisham said there were no other infections linked to it.
The patient had been discharged two weeks ago.
However, Universiti Malaya research consultant Professor Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit said there could be more cases caused by this and other variants, judging from the sharp increase of cases.
“I am afraid we are doing far too few genome sequencings on Covid-19 samples, and may have missed many positives caused by variants.
“There must be more cases in the community accounting for such a large surge since it is known that the UK and other variants have high transmissibility, up to 70% more than the normal strain,” he said in a statement today.
First discovered in the UK in September 2020, the B 117 variant has been rapidly spreading and has been found in more than 40 countries, also becoming the dominant strain in the UK while the US CDC expected it to be the dominant strain in the US by March.
Lam added two other variants have also been equally worrying, namely the South Africa variant (501Y.V2) and the Brazil variant (P.1).
“The South African variant also referred to as B1.351, was found in early October and seemed to have affected young people more than previous strains.
“This mutation has been identified in more than two dozen countries, including Canada, Australia, and Israel, but not here in Malaysia or in the US.
“The Brazil variant was found in Rio last July and has caused a disastrous surge in infections in the city of Manaus despite the fact that 76% of the population had already been infected by the original strain. The fear is that the P.1 variant has mutations that allow it to evade the human immune system, but more study is necessary,” Lam said.
Meanwhile, Lam said scientists have raised the possibility that this variant can evade antibodies, which would impact the current vaccines’ effectiveness.
“Scientists are keeping an eye on changes in the antigen which can make the virus more infectious or transmissible, and even cause a more severe infection.
“The first such prominent change in the virus appeared in early February 2020 when it displayed a mutation termed D614G which made its way to Malaysia and became the dominant strain within a few months,” he said.
Lam said more importantly, the variants can affect diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, down to the mode of spread.
“It is important for Malaysia to monitor for virus variants and contribute our findings to the global genome sequence database.
“The number of positive Covid-19 cases have surged to four-digits in the last two weeks and subsequently have increased the number of hospitalisations, patients in ICU and deaths,” he noted.
Malaysia now ranks 29th worldwide for the number of cases, and has come out second after Indonesia among the Asian countries.