Indian doctors claim the new Covid variant is giving people gangrene and hearing loss that older strains of the virus didn’t.
The country was battered by the new variant, known as B1617.2 or ‘Delta’, in the spring with millions of people getting infected and hospitals spilling into the streets.
Scientists say the variant appears to be the most infectious one discovered to date and medics now suggest it might be more dangerous, too.
Health chiefs in the UK have already warned that there seems to be a higher risk of ending up in hospital with this variant than with the previously dominant Kent strain.
But doctors in Britain have not reported gangrene or hearing loss, despite tens of thousands of cases of the variant.
This suggests that they may be extremely rare and only found in India so far because millions of people got infected in a short space of time, or that they happened by chance in people who had Covid and aren’t caused by the variant at all.
Concerns about how fast the variant is spreading and the possibility that it makes vaccines less effective are piling pressure on Boris Johnson to delay ending lockdown on June 21, with scientific advisers urging him to push it back to buy time to roll out jabs.
The B1617.2 ‘Delta’ variant is already believed to be the fastest-spreading strain of the virus since it was discovered in India earlier this year and medics now think it could be more harmful (Pictured: A man is tested for coronavirus near Siliguri in Northern India)
One doctor said the arrival of new symptoms more than a year into the pandemic showed how unpredictable the virus was.
Dr Abdul Ghafur, an infectious disease expert at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai, told Bloomberg: ‘We need more scientific research to analyse if these newer clinical presentations are linked to B.1.617 or not.’
There had not been any obvious signs that the Brazil or South African variants, the first mutants to worry scientists, were causing different symptoms to other strains.
But a number of doctors are now reportedly seeing unusual problems in people diagnosed with the virus.
As well as typical symptoms like lost appetites, stomach pains, diarrhoea and joint pain, some were also developing gangrene or hearing loss.
India is emerging from a devastating second wave of coronavirus in which more than 350,000 people per day were testing positive at the peak – and experts said there were many more not getting tested
The rate of positive tests in India is now similar to the UK but the true numbers are higher because there are so many more people – the population is over a billion
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON COVID SYMPTOMS IN THE UK?
Below are data from Imperial College London’s REACT study looking at adults aged 18 to 54 between June and December 2020.
This is likely to include the most common symptoms of thousands of people infected with the original Wuhan strain of the virus and the Kent variant, with others in between, but not the Indian variant, which appeared in the UK in spring 2021.
Loss of smell
Loss of taste
Gangrene is a condition in which living tissue dies and starts to rot while still on the body because of a lack of oxygen, usually caused by blocked blood supply.
Coronavirus is known to cause clots in a lot of people who become seriously ill with it, and blood clots can easily become lodged in small blood vessels and cut off the blood supply, leading to gangrene if it is not treated properly.
‘I saw three to four cases the whole of last year, and now it’s one patient a week,’ said Dr Ganesh Manudhane, a cardiologist in Mumbai.
He has reportedly treated eight patients in the past two months and two of them even had to have amputations – one of fingers and the other a foot.
He added: ‘We suspect it could be because of the new virus variant.’
It is also fairly common for viral infections in general to cause hearing loss.
Viruses are the one of the top causes of sudden hearing loss in people who are born with normal hearing – measles, mumps and certain types of herpes are among the possible causes and permanent damage can be caused by viruses attacking the cochlea in the inner ear.
It is not always exactly clear how this happens but swelling caused by the immune response could damage the sensitive inner ear or the tiny hairs needed for hearing.
Many doctors and scientists have called for there to be a longer list of symptoms that would allow people to get Covid tests in the UK.
Currently only people with a cough, fever or loss of their sense of taste or smell are classed as having Covid symptoms, although studies and NHS reports have found the true range of effects is much wider.
But the more symptoms are included, the more likely it is that people will think they have Covid but don’t and there will be more negative tests.
The three chosen symptoms are considered to strike the best balance between picking up a large proportion of people who really do have Covid while not also scooping up huge numbers who have other common illnesses.