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Jacksonville health experts weigh in on contagious COVID variant in India

India has 18 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 200,000 deaths.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A crippling COVID surge in India, with 18 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 200,000 deaths.

Over the past week, local health experts say India’s confirmed COVID cases are hitting a global record.

“Much of India is not a first-world country so to have that many cases and that many deaths is really a humanitarian crisis," said Chad Neilsen director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville. 

As the days pass the human toll rises. Neilsen says India is battling its second wave of COVID.

“The spread is so fast and so devastating there with their limited resources in a lot of areas," said Neilsen. 

A day after the CDC issued a travel advisory to avoid travel to India, President Joe Biden announced plans to restrict travel to the country starting Tuesday.

“Variants can travel across countries and across continents and don’t respect international borders," said Dr. Elizabeth Ransom, Executive Vice President and Chief Physician Executive with Baptist Health. 

The B.1.617 variant is believed to have started in India. Dr. Ransom says some call it a double mutant.

“This particular variant has these two mutations on the spike protein which is what seems to account for its higher transmissibility," said Dr. Ransom. 

Neilsen says viruses travel quickly. In fact, the B.1.617 variant has already been detected in the U.S.

“We know that the vaccines work. your number one goal should be going to get vaccinated. because then you severely reduce your risk of getting COVID wherever you go," said Neilsen.