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What Are Kappa & Lambda Variants? Should We Fear Them?

New Delhi: Kappa and Lambda have emerged as two new variants of concern along with Delta and Delta Plus.

On 9 July, the Uttar Pradesh government reported two cases of the Kappa variant of the virus in the state, while Lambda), first detected in Peru, is drawing attention from across the world.

So, what are Kappa and Lambda, and do we need to fear them?

Kappa: According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Kappa variant, which is the B.1.617.1 strain of SARS-CoV-2, is the only other COVID-19 variant that was first identified in India. However, it is not a new variant. According to the WHO, the Kappa variant was first identified in India in October 2020. This variant is listed as a Variant of Interest.

Kappa is a sub-lineage of B.1.617 variant, first reported from Maharashtra, India, in October 2020. This variant was subsequently identified as a triple mutant by the Indian government in late March 2021, as it had three mutations of interest.

The sub-lineage B.1.617.1 is now known as Kappa while B.1.617.2 is known as the Delta variant. In simple terms, Kappa is a sibling of Delta. However, as in a family, siblings could be very different from each other, and that exactly is the case with Kappa and Delta. While Delta variant has higher transmissibility, documented immune escape and breakthrough infections, none of these properties have been documented for the Kappa variant, so far. Kappa variant is not a major concern as of now.

Lambda: The Lambda variant or the C.37 strain, designated a Variant of Interest by the WHO on June 14. It carries a lot of mutations with suspected phenotypic implications, such as increased transmissibility or resistance to neutralizing antibodies. This COVID-19 variant has been detected in over 30 countries.

At present, it is the most dominant variant in Peru (around 80 per cent of all cases in the country) and Chile and is widely circulating in South America. By June 2021, it had been reported in around 25 countries, including in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Australia. However, the number of COVID cases as a result of this variant outside South America remains small. No case of Lambda variant has yet been reported from India or neighboring countries.

What should we do?

Whatever the variant, there is no change in the recommended measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2. Most of the currently licensed vaccines are effective against these variants. Therefore, it is important we get vaccinated. Kappa is not a cause of immediate concern and there has not been any documented change in the properties of the virus; therefore, we don’t need to panic. Lambda variant has not been reported from India so far.

We must keep following COVID- appropriate behaviour, which includes wearing a face mask, maintaining physical distancing, washing hands, and getting vaccinated