A 66-year-old South African national, who arrived in Bengaluru via Dubai last month, and a 46-year-old doctor at a private hospital in the city, with no travel history, are the first two cases of Omicron to be detected in India.
Both were fully vaccinated before testing positive and displayed only mild symptoms, officials said. But the presence of Omicron in a person with no travel history has resulted in officials and experts warning of the “possible presence” of the new variant among others in Bengaluru.
“If there is no travel history, we have to think about possible presence in the community. The travel history probably needs to be checked again,” Dr C Nagaraj, director of the state-run Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases, told The Indian Express.
Referring to the two Omicron cases, officials said the 66-year-old returned to South Africa via Dubai on November 27 after testing negative in Bengaluru, but none of his 24 primary and 240 secondary contacts tested positive. Among the 218 contacts of the doctor, three primary and two secondary contacts have tested positive, they said.
Attributing the detection of Omicron to “aggressive testing”, Karnataka Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar said: “One person, a 66-year-old who came from South Africa on November 20, who was asymptomatic, tested positive after his sample was obtained at the airport. He was in a private hotel. He tested negative on November 23 (and) returned to South Africa on November 27.”
Referring to the second sample, Sudhakar said: “He was symptomatic and had a fever. He tested positive on November 22 and self-isolated. When it was found that his cycle threshold (CT value) was low (and hence viral load was high), his sample was sent for genome sequencing on November 24.”
The doctor and five of his contacts who tested positive have been “isolated in a government hospital and a special watch is being kept”. “Till now, no one has had complications or severity. The symptoms are mild… While dealing with the Delta variant, there were a lot of problems linked to the lungs but we have not seen it in these cases,” he said.
Meanwhile, speaking to reporters in Delhi after meeting Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said: “We have been testing all passengers from high-risk countries as per protocol. Upon testing, one strain was a bit different…We then sent their samples for whole genomic sequencing to NCBS (National Centre for Biological Sciences).”
In Bengaluru, Gaurav Gupta, commissioner of BBMP, the city civic agency, said “the fact that one of the patients is a local means there should be precaution”.
“It means that the virus is possibly in other people, too. Treatment protocols for the new variant remain the same as that for the older variants. Very little is known about the variant. We have not got guidelines. Both persons who have been detected with the new variant were double vaccinated… The patient from Bengaluru, who was symptomatic, is clinically stable and has no complications,” Gupta said.
According to the official, a decision had been taken to send samples of all persons testing positive with low CT values for genome sequencing since results are now available in a week instead of several weeks.
Dr M K Sudarshan, a retired professor of public health who heads the technical advisory panel on Covid to the Karnataka government, said they had received a hint at a meeting of experts Tuesday of the detection of the Omicron variant. “We do not have any specific guidelines for treating patients with the new variant. There is no separate protocol, it is the same as that for the Delta variant,” he said.
Earlier this week, Minister Sudhakar had said that the state had sought clarity on a variant discovered in a traveller from South Africa and that it was different from the Delta variant that has been predominant in India since the beginning of the second wave of Covid.
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