Even with recent developments on testing, vaccination, and the gradual ease in quarantine and lockdown protocols, the world remains vigilant with the present threat of new COVID-19 mutations.
According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), variants of SARS-CoV-2 are expected to emerge. Some will disappear, and others will continue to spread and may replace previous variants.
The Delta variant is an example of a COVID-19 variant that is causing a rapid and alarming rise in cases and hospitalization rates. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized it as a variant of concern due to its high transmissibility.
What is the Delta variant?
The Delta variant (B.1.617.2), a highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus strain, is a major concern today as it is causing a renewed surge of infections worldwide. It has been identified in at least 130 countries, as reported by the WHO.
The CDC describes it as more transmissible than the common cold and influenza and the viruses that cause MERS, SARS, Ebola, and smallpox. Public health experts estimate that a person infected with Delta can spread it to three or four people compared to one or two people through the original coronavirus strain.
Today, it is the dominant strain in countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia, and Fiji.
Where did the Delta variant originate from?
The Delta variant first emerged in the Indian state of Maharashtra in October 2020. The world was shocked as the contagious Delta variant caused a steady incline of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. In April 2021, the country experienced a massive wave of infections peaking at nearly 400,000 daily cases.
As of early July, it has become the dominant strain of coronavirus in the US, UK, Germany, and many other countries. According to Public Health England, the Delta variant makes up more than 97% of the new COVID-19 cases in the UK.
What is the Delta Plus variant?
The Delta Plus variant (B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1) is considered a “subvariant” of the Delta version that caused a mutation to the delta strain. Research is still underway, and not much is known about its severity and contagiousness, but it has a mutation that allows the virus to attack lung cells better.
It is said to be more resistant to defensive antibodies and can potentially escape vaccines. It is first identified in India and found in the US, UK, and other countries. India has labeled it as a variant of concern, but WHO and CDC have not as it has been found in relatively low numbers.
What are the symptoms of the Delta variant?
The symptoms appear to be similar to the original coronavirus strain. It includes persistent cough, headache, fever, and sore throat. The variant grows rapidly, especially in the respiratory tract.
What does the Delta variant mean for vaccinated and unvaccinated people?
According to Yale Medicine, unvaccinated individuals are at most risk. In the US, places with low vaccination rates, such as Alabama, Kansas, Georgia, and West Virginia, have seen a rise in cases. Meaning, people who have yet to get jabbed are more susceptible to contracting the Delta variant.
Additionally, children who have yet to be vaccinated are of concern as well. According to a study in the UK, children and adults under 50 are 2.5 times more likely to be infected with the Delta variant.
In contrast, vaccinated individuals have higher protection as COVID-19 vaccines effectively prevent severe illness and death, including the Delta variant. For people with vaccinations that involve two doses, it is important to receive both to have maximum protection.
Vaccination does protect people, but it is not 100% effective. There are still vaccinated people who might get infected with COVID-19, though with milder symptoms: this is called breakthrough infection. Scientists are currently looking at how the Delta variant can cause breakthrough cases, but they seem to be rare so far.
Delta variant could be disastrous in some communities
Many communities have low vaccination rates, particularly those with limited access to care, making the Delta variant even more damaging than the original version of coronavirus. Many countries are currently grappling and suffering from this, especially in poorer countries where vaccines are not accessible. According to health experts, the impact in these less fortunate communities might be felt for decades to come.
How to protect yourself and your family against the Delta variant?
As situations and safety protocols might change anytime, it is of utmost importance to keep updated about COVID-19 infections in your community and adhere to local guidance accordingly. The higher cases of transmission, the higher the risk of exposure in general settings. To ensure protection at all times, follow the following:
- Avoid crowded public spaces and maintain physical distancing.
- Keep indoor spaces well ventilated (It can be as simple as opening windows).
- Maintain regular washing of hands with soap and water or sanitizers.
- Get vaccinated. If you are hesitant, worry no more as WHO has approved vaccines to be safe and effective.
- Wear a mask – Wearing a mask is necessary for reducing the transmission of the Delta variant. Wear one in public places where social distancing is not possible or where there is a chance of community transmission.
More variants are likely to come
Currently, the Delta variant is the most prominent COVID-19 strain, but others are also emerging. One of such variants is the Lambda (C.37), first identified in Peru in August 2020. It has now spread throughout South America and was designated as a “variant of interest” by the WHO. It has several mutations, but scientists are still not sure of how risky it is. Lambada variant accounts for less than 1% in the US.
Health experts and professionals advise people to be vaccinated if they want things to return to normal. Unless most people worldwide decide to get vaccinated, new strains of the virus will continue to develop and cause catastrophic problems.
In a world where everything is uncertain, there is one thing that people can be sure of: the advise and importance of health experts. Whether it is about taking a Covid-19 test, what safety protocols to follow, travel guidelines, remember to listen to those who know best.
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