The year 2020 came with several challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the vaccines were released to the general public, many believed this was the end of the strict guidelines. However, as restrictions were lifted, a new danger presented itself. The Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was first documented in India in December of 2020 and has since spread worldwide. Now, it’s known for being highly contagious and potentially more deadly than the original strain of COVID-19.
Understandably, many questions are surrounding this new variant. Here’s what we know so far.
What is the Delta variant?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the delta variant, otherwise known as the B.1.617.2 lineage, has been reported in 80 countries and has become the most commonly spread variant. Because of this, there is a common fear that this strain could lead to renewed pandemic restrictions or another quarantine. So, what is it exactly?
While the original COVID-19 virus has spike proteins that can attach to human cells, the Delta variant has mutated spike proteins that bind more easily. This mutation is why people are more likely to contract this variant and why those who have it are more contagious.
How contagious is the Delta variant?
After performing genomic surveillance, Dr. Scott Gottlieb (formerly from the FDA) found that approximately 10% of new COVID-19 cases are connected to the delta variant. Another study from the U.K. found that the variant is about 60% more transmissible than the alpha variant, which was initially 50% more infectious than the original SARS-CoV-2 strain. In terms of the fatality rate, scientists are still looking into the numbers. However, based on data from the U.K. and the United States, the delta variant is more likely to lead to hospitalization and death, particularly for unvaccinated patients.
Are the symptoms any different?
Studies have shown that the new delta variant shares the primary symptoms of the original COVID-19 strain. However, this variant also presents new symptoms that differ from previous variants.
Symptoms of the delta variant include:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
On top of these symptoms, you could also experience fever, continuous cough, and loss of smell or taste. However, persistent coughing and loss of taste or smell are less common in delta variant cases. Scientists are also warning people how similar the delta strain feels to a head cold or common allergies. If you think you may have contracted the B.1.617.2 lineage, contact your physician or closest health department for care instructions.
What does this mean for vaccinated people?
As of right now, cases of the delta variant are rare among fully vaccinated people. Studies show two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine are approximately 88% effective in protecting against the strain and up to 96% effective against hospitalization. Studies have shown that the AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines offer 60% protection against the strain and approximately 93% efficacy against hospitalization. However, a July study showed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shows a decreased efficacy over time. As of right now, vaccine makers are testing the effectiveness of booster shots against the delta variant and other COVID-19 variants. Pfizer recently announced a potential booster to be released this August.
Those who have not been fully vaccinated or have not received the vaccine altogether are at high risk of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus and all variant strains. In fact, unvaccinated individuals are 2.5 times more likely to contract the delta strain. Other reports show communities with low vaccination rates have higher case numbers and hospitalization rates. Children and those with underlying health conditions are also highly susceptible to the delta variant.
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