Among other things, the Delta variant is a more contagious strain than other variants and vaccines have been proven to be the best protection against it.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you know that COVID-19 is far from gone. In fact, it’s facing a resurgence due to the spread of a new mutation called the Delta variant. This variant has been cited as the main reason why many countries around the world have been seeing their COVID-19 cases explode. It was first discovered in India in December 2020 and is said to be why the country saw six digit case counts on a daily basis earlier in the year. In Southeast Asia, Thailand, Malaysia, and especially Indonesia have been recording record-breaking daily cases that are mainly driven by the Delta variant.
In the UK, which is currently going through a resurgence of cases, 99% of new COVID-19 cases there are caused by the Delta variant. It is also the dominant strain spotted in the US, with recent reports saying that 83% of COVID-19 cases there are caused by the Delta variant. More importantly, the variant recently landed on the shores of the Philippines.
So, what exactly is the Delta variant? While researchers still don’t have a complete picture of the variant, from what we know, the Delta variant should be a cause for concern.
WHAT IS THE DELTA VARIANT
The Delta variant, or also known as B.1.617.2., is a strain of COVID-19 that has been spotted in at least 80 countries so far. The reason why there is a Delta variant in the first place is that COVID-19, like most viruses, mutates over time. Some of the previous COVID-19 mutations that have been identified include Alpha (first spotted in the UK), Beta (first spotted in South Africa), Epsilon (first spotted in the US, and Gamma (first spotted in Brazil).
What makes the Delta variant different though from the others is that its mutations give it an advantage over the other strains. Most importantly, the Delta variant is more transmissible than any other variant due to mutations that makes it better at latching onto cells in the body. Research has suggested that the Delta variant is 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which was 60% more transmissible than the original strain first discovered in China. To put this into context, if the original strain of COVID-19 can infect 2.5 other people, the Delta variant can infect between 3.5-4 people and that spreads exponentially.
Specifically, studies have shown that the Delta variant grows more rapidly inside a person’s respiratory tract as compared to other strands. It is estimated that people infected with the Delta variant have about 1000 times more copies of COVID-19 in their respiratory tracts when compared to people infected with the original strain of COVID-19. The Delta variant is apparently is very contagious that a man in Australia was infected by it just by walking past an infected person, in a 5 to 10-second encounter. While this isn’t meant to be treated as a one size fits all situation, it does illustrate that the Delta variant can spread very quickly. The Delta variant has proven to be such a dangerous strain that The World Health Organization (WHO) called it “the fastest and fittest” COVID-19 variant. The CDC meanwhile said that the Delta variant was a “variant of concern.”
MORE CONTAGIOUS, BUT NOT AS DEADLY (SO FAR)
The good news is that the Delta variant is not deadlier than other variants, or at least the data so far is inconclusive to suggest that it kills more people. Early data out of the UK shows that the Delta variant is only killing 0.2% of those it infects and that could be attributed to vaccinations. The data also is still inconclusive if the Delta variant makes you sicker compared to other variants. Though studies do suggest that people infected with the Delta variant could be more likely to be hospitalized, up to twice as much. All of this though could change as more research is done on the variant.
THE PROBLEM WITH A HIGHLY TRANSMISSIBLE VARIANT
The Delta variant having higher transmissibility is a huge danger to people without immunity either from vaccination or prior infection, even if the variant is not deadlier than previous versions of the virus. As seen in other countries, the Delta variant can rip through and infect tens of thousands of people easily. Having a virus spread like this is dangerous because the longer a virus is active, the bigger the chance that it can mutate into something more dangerous. Scientists are worried and you should be too. The worst-case scenario is if COVID-19 mutated further into a virus that not only infects fast but kills faster.
And before you even think about it, there is nothing good with the Delta variant infecting thousands of Filipinos so we can achieve herd immunity faster. The people who are going to suffer the most in this situation are the most vulnerable. If too many people are infected at once in a particular area, the local health care system will become overwhelmed, strained, and burdened which can lead to more unnecessary deaths.
You may have also heard of something called Delta Plus. It is a slightly altered version of the Delta variant that has been found in a handful of countries. Delta Plus contains an additional mutation called K417N that affects the spike protein that the virus needs to infect cells. But this shouldn’t be a major cause of concern, at least as of now. “I predict 417 is not an important enough mutation. Delta is bad enough as it is and I don’t think 417 will change [it] that much or become dominant,” said Ravindra Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases in an interview with Time Magazine.
DELTA VARIANT’S SYMPTOMS
So, how do you know or spot someone who has the Delta variant? Well, there is no definitive answer to that yet, given the data is still early. Symptoms for the original COVID-19 include things like dry cough, fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, or a combination of these. But so far, those who get infected by the Delta variant show different symptoms. “It seems like cough and loss of smell are less common. And headache, sore throat, runny nose, and fever are present based on the most recent surveys in the U.K., where more than 90% of the cases are due to the Delta strain,” said Dr. Inci Yildirim, MD, Ph.D., a Yale Medicine pediatric infectious diseases specialist, and a vaccinologist.
GETTING VACCINATED IS THE BEST DEFENSE
While all of this may all sound scary, there is a way to stop the Delta variant, and that is through getting vaccinated. The best defense against the Delta variant is vaccination, especially when you are fully vaccinated as compared to just one dose. Those who aren’t vaccinated are at high risk of getting infected and worse, succumbing to the virus. And even if you are vaccinated, it does not give you free rein to do whatever you want. You still have to follow health and safety protocols, always wear your mask, and avoid large crowds whenever possible.
It’s also not yet suggested that those who are already vaccinated should get a booster shot. It’s too early to know whether booster shots modified to target the strain or any other variant are needed. Pfizer is planning to do clinical trials in August for a booster shot that would potentially be used against the Delta variant. But other than that, no official word has yet to be given.
At the end of the day, the best way to stop COVID-19 and its variants, in general, is to practice proper safety and prevention practices, and most importantly, vaccinate people before they can be exposed to the virus. The Delta variant is a dangerous strain (especially if you’re unvaccinated) and sad to say it’s in the Philippines. Be careful, stay safe, and get vaccinated as soon as you can.