As the much swifter and deadlier variant of COVID-19 continues to batter India with researchers trying to decode the potential lethality of the double mutant B.1.617, researchers have found another mutant ‘N440K’ of the novel coronavirus, which according to them is "10 to 1,000 times more infectious" than the known strains, a report said.

This mutant, according to the team of researchers from Hyderabad and Ghaziabad, appears to be fuelling the second wave of COVID-19 in certain areas of the country, the Times of India report said.

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The COVID-mutant N440K, first found in Andhra Pradesh’s Kurnoolcity, is spreading fast in some parts of the country. This variant has majorly contributed to the chunk of infections in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the second wave, and is rapidly spreading. In the past two months, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana and Chhattisgarh together contributed about 50% of samples with this particular mutant strain, indicating its geographically-localised spread.

The research study by scientists from Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and the Academy for Scientific and Innovative Research (AcSIR), Ghaziabad, suggests that the N440K variant produced 10 times higher infectious viral titres (viral load) than a prevalent A2a strain and over 1,000-fold higher titres than a much less prevalent A3i strain prototype in Caco2 (epithelial) cells, the report said.

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As many as 1,555 entries with N440K substitution could be identified from across the world. Interestingly, India contributed the largest proportion of N440K variants at 33%, followed by the US and Germany, the researchers said. In the span of 4 months - January to April 24 - the proportion of the N440K variant in India has increased from 4.9% sequence earlier to 8.8%, the researchers explained.

Should the people panic over N440K COVID variant?

The N440K strain, which was found in 20-30 per cent of samples in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Telangana will fade away in the coming weeks, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) Advisor Rakesh Mishra told The New Indian Express.

He, however, advised people to strictly adhere to COVID Appropriate Behaviour like wearing mask, maintaining physical distance, personal hygiene and proper sanitation, as the new variant of Covid-19 -- B.1.617 known as the ‘Double Mutant’ or ‘Indian Variant,’ is steadily becoming a dominant ‘variant’ of coronavirus.

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The second wave of COVID-19 has massively hit India and has caused havoc in India's healthcare system. New COVID cases crossed a 2-crore mark with over 3.57 lakh new infections. 3,449 more people died of the infection, pushing the total toll to 2,22,408.