The Delta coronavirus variant, which was first identified in India in December 2020, is a variant of the original coronavirus that swept the globe last year, only now it has evolved to become more infectious. Currently, the Delta variant has only been labeled a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC due to it’s high rate of infection and potential to evade vaccines. Since its discovery in late 2020, the Delta variant has spread globally and is now reported in 104 countries.
As of early July, the Delta variant has become the dominant form of the COVID-19 in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and other countries. In the U.K., the variant now makes up more than 97% of new COVID-19 cases and in the U.S. it is present in all 50 states and now accounts for 52% of new infections.
Quick-spreading variant of concern
The CDC and WHO monitor all variants of the virus to find out if transmission could lead to a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as whether current vaccines can provide protection.
In the U.S. variants are classified as either a “variant of interest,” a “variant of concern,” or a “variant of high consequence.” Currently no variants are classified as variants of high consequence, though Delta and others have been classified as variants of concern.
The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, has been classified as such due to its increased rate of transmissibility. It can spread more easily, according to the CDC and the strain contains mutations on the spike protein that make it easier to infect human cells. This means that infected individuals may be more contagious and can spread the virus more easily to others. It is believed that those infected with the Delta variant can spread the virus to three or four people at a time, compared to the original virus which spread to one or two people at a time according to Yale Medicine.
Researchers now have found that the Delta variant is about 50% more contagious than the variant that preceded it, Alpha B.1.1.7. The Alpha variant was already 50% more contagious than the original coronavirus that began spreading in China in 2019.
Additionally, many are concerned that the Delta virus may be harder to treat as it may be able to escape some protection from vaccines and treatment. Still, experts urge the unvaccinated to get their two doses, as the vaccine is still the main safeguard against the virus.
An off-shoot of the Delta variant now gaining traction is Delta Plus. Known as B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1, Delta Plus is considered a “subvariant” of the Delta variant. The key difference between the two is that Delta Plus contains a mutation that allows the virus to better attack lung cells and potentially escape vaccines.
The coronavirus works by attacking the respiratory tract, traveling down your airways and getting into the lungs, irritating and inflaming the lining and using healthy cells to make new virus parts and spread the infection.
Delta Plus’ ability to better attack lung cells is concerning as the variant could potentially lead to more severe symptoms and cases. However, so far only India has labeled Delta Plus a variant of concern.
New symptoms and steps to protect yourself
Unlike the original strand of the COVID-19 virus, the Delta variant is exhibiting some different, milder symptoms which may go unnoticed. Instead of the hallmarks of COVID-19 such as shortness of breath and loss of taste and smell, the most common symptoms of the new Delta strain are headaches, a runny nose, and sore throat—symptoms that could be easily confused with the common cold.
Still, the original COVID-19 symptoms may also be present so it is important for individuals to stay vigilant and not dismiss any symptoms, even if they have already been vaccinated.
Get fully vaccinated
Currently, vaccination is the best safeguard against all strains of the virus and people who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are at the most risk. The Delta strain also appears to be impacting children and young people at a greater rate than previous variants.
A recent study from the U.K. showed that children and adults under 50 were 2.5 times more likely to become infected with the Delta variant. Mutations in the Delta variant allow it to evade some of the protections vaccines offer, however, even still, those vaccinated are more protected than unvaccinated individuals.
The key to full protection is to get both doses of the vaccine. Those who have only been partially vaccinated are at an increased risk of infection as one dose has been found to be only 33% effective.
Wear masks and use your better judgement
While the CDC’s updated guidelines no longer require fully vaccinated individuals to wear a mask in most situations, experts advise to continue using them indoors or in crowds of unfamiliar people.
If you’re not sure if the people you are around are fully vaccinated, it’s best to use your better judgement and wear a mask to keep both yourself and others safe. Since the Delta variant can potentially evade some of the protections from the vaccine and vaccines themselves are not 100% effective in preventing the virus, extra caution is the prudent approach. Additionally, all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, should continue to wash their hands thoroughly after outings and contact with individuals and stay home if they are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms of the virus.
We will continue to see how the Delta variant progresses in the coming weeks.
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