The Delta variant of Covid-19 is the most concerning of all emerging strains of the Novel Coronavirus. This version of Covid-19 emerged in India, where it caused the deadly and terrifying second wave of the pandemic, and it’s now spreading across North America, the UK, Europe, and China. Researchers now know that the Delta variant spreads faster than the original alpha variant of SARS-CoV-2 and doubles hospitalizations.
For this reason, the WHO announced that the Delta variant is “a variant of concern at a global level.” Read on to learn why experts are increasingly concerned about this new version of COVID-19.
How is the Delta variant different from previous versions of COVID-19?
This new version of the virus has mutations previously found in the beta strain from South Africa and other strains of the novel coronavirus, which likely account for its explosive transmissibility and possible ability to cause more severe symptoms. According to the latest estimations, the Delta strain is 40% more transmissible than the original Alpha version of the Novel Coronavirus.
Currently, the Delta variant is the most widespread version of the virus in India according to The Hindu. It is also the most predominant strain in the UK and accounts for 91% of new COVID-19 cases. The WHO reports that the Delta variant was already found in 70 countries across the globe, including the US.
In the United States, the new variant accounted for only 1% of cases a month ago but now makes up 6% of the tested samples, as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In some Western and Midwestern states, as many as 18% of the tested samples come back positive for the Delta strain. Apart from spreading like wildfire, researchers suggest that the strain also causes more severe symptoms.
What symptoms does the Delta variant produce?
Just like the initial version of the Novel Coronavirus, the symptoms produced by the Delta variant vary from asymptomatic to flu-like symptoms in children to life-threatening in susceptible individuals. One of the most concerning aspects of the Delta strain is its ability to cause more severe symptoms. An analysis conducted in England of over 38,000 COVID-19 patients showed that the novel strain sends 2.61 times more people into the hospital than the Alpha variant.
Severe symptoms like a high fever, shortness of breath, and extreme fatigue typically appear after 3 or 4 days. Bloomberg also reports anecdotal evidence of the Delta variant causing bizarre symptoms like gangrene and hearing loss, but we need studies to confirm that these findings are actually linked to COVID-19.
Are those who are vaccinated protected against the Delta strain?
Fully vaccinated individuals are believed to be protected against the Delta variant according to a pre-print study. The English analysis we mentioned earlier also points out that the majority of hospitalized patients and visits were among unvaccinated individuals. Another study in just 20 people who were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccines suggests that the patients had enough antibodies to fight off the Delta variant. The same is true for individuals who recently recovered from COVID-19.
This is likely why the spread of the Delta variant seems to be slower in countries like the US with high vaccination rates, and also why the strain took so many lives in India, where the mass vaccination began later and vaccination rates remain relatively low.
However, research is relatively scarce at present, and the mutations present in the Delta variant make it more resistant to antibodies. These mutations “change the way the virus attaches to a cell, make an activation step easier and block some, but not all of, the antibodies that do the most good,” stated Benjamin Neuman, a virologist, to the Huffington Post.
The data we do have suggests that you are protected from the Delta strain if you are fully vaccinated. A person is considered to be fully vaccinated 14 days after getting the last dose of the vaccine. But there are reported cases of people getting sick after getting just one dose of a vaccine. “A single dose of the mRNA vaccines clearly conveys insufficient protection against the Delta variant,” pointed out Dr. Stanley H. Weiss to Healthline.
Therefore, the risk of getting sick remains in those who only got one dose of an mRNA vaccine and those whose body is less likely to produce enough antibodies, such as immunocompromised individuals and older adults. If you belong to any of those groups, you should be extra careful and continue practicing all social distancing measures.
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