SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- County health officials say a variant sweeping through India was detected for the first time in San Diego.
The case involved a woman in her 20s who was hospitalized with COVID-19 in early April, a county spokesperson told ABC 10News. The woman had traveled from India to San Diego in late March.
Genetic sequencing later determined she had been infected with the B.1.617 variant, nicknamed the double mutant.
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The woman, who was not vaccinated, was released from the hospital within a week, the spokesperson said. County health officials determined she had one close contact in San Diego and that person did not develop symptoms.
As San Diego continues to make progress on vaccination rates and case counts, “the detection of COVID-19 variants continues to be a public health threat,” said County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.
Health experts believe the B.1.617 variant has been helping fuel the record-breaking COVID cases in India that have left hospitals overwhelmed. India recorded nearly half of all the infections worldwide last week.
The variant is now the dominant lineage in the state of Maharashtra, but it’s been found only sporadically in the United States.
“We've only detected a handful of cases” in California, said UC San Francisco infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong. “One in San Diego and a few in the Bay Area.”
This week, the Biden Administration imposed a ban on travel from India by non-U.S. citizens.
The B.1.617 variant has several mutations, but it’s nicknamed the double mutant because it has two important mutations on the part of the virus that attaches to cells, what’s called the receptor-binding domain.
“We don't know what the combination of those two mean, but at the minimum, it's going to mean that it's more transmissible,” said Dr. Chin-Hong.
One of the mutations in the India variant, called E484Q, is similar to one found in the South Africa and Brazil variants. That mutation, E484K, appears to make the variants more elusive to the body’s defenses.
However, a small study in India recently looked at blood samples from about two dozen vaccinated people and found antibodies produced by the Novavax vaccine did neutralize the B.1.617 variant.
The experiment was done in a petri dish, but it’s an encouraging preliminary sign for the vaccines available in the U.S.
“If the Indian variant came in November or December of 2020 in California, it would be a different scenario then now because we have a lot of people protected both from natural immunity and from vaccine-induced immunity,” said Dr. Chin-Hong.
India is in a much more vulnerable state, he said, because only 2.1 percent of its population is fully vaccinated.