J&K’s first Genome Sequencing Lab starts at SKIMS

A huge stride for the institute, J&K’s health sector: Director SKIMS
SKIMS SouraTwitter/ @DirectorSkims

Srinagar: With J&K’s first Genome Sequencing Lab kick-starting at SKIMS Soura, for the first time, the union territory has real-time data of the major circulating variants of COVID19.

During March and April, Arcturus, the fast spreading Omicron sub-variant, has predominated, the data reveals.

Over the past three years, J&K has depended on INSACOG Lab network for providing genome sequences of the positive samples of COVID19.

Due to the load on these labs, it has been a norm to get data months after a sample was sent for sequencing.

As a result, the policy makers and experts could not have any real-time information about the virus variants that were circulating: less effective strategy for pandemics.  However, the Microbiology Laboratory of SKIMS, Soura, has now started gene-sequencing the samples from J&K.

Director SKIMS, Prof Parvaiz A Koul called the facility ‘a huge stride’ in effective handling of viral outbreaks in future.

“Not just the current pandemic, we will now be able to have the genomic data of virus threats in future as well,” Prof Koul told Greater Kashmir.

The analysis of samples received from GMC Jammu, GMC Anantnag, GMC Srinagar, SKIMS Medical College, Bemina, and District Hospital Ganderbal has revealed that XBB.1.16, also known as Arcturus, is the predominant strain circulating in J&K.

Talking to Greater Kashmir, Head Department of Microbiology, SKIMS, Soura, Dr Bashir Ahmed Fomda said, “The XBB.1.16 variant does not lead to any severe complications but is highly contagious. However, people with underlying health conditions, the elderly population, and individuals with respiratory conditions should be extra careful.”

He said that other predominant variants among J&K samples were XBB.1.16.1 and XBB.2.3, followed by others.

“From being the first laboratory in J&K to perform RT-PCR testing of COVID-19 samples, the institute now takes pride in becoming the first in J&K to perform the highly complex next generation sequencing of SARS-CoV2 samples,” Dr Fomda said.

According to Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunization (GAVI), Arcturus is ‘by far the most transmissible’ variant of COVID-19, “even more capable of seeking out individuals who have not previously had COVID-19, been vaccinated against it, or whose immunity from previous infections or vaccinations has waned”.

However, it also states that the variant is very less likely to cause any major increase in hospitalisations and deaths.

The Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) is the most advanced genome-sequencing platform that allows voluminous sequencing and faster results.

The J&K government had earlier announced that two Genome Sequencing Labs would be set up in J&K, one each at GMC Srinagar and GMC Jammu.

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