Coronavirus delta variant: What you should know

Coronavirus delta variant: What you should know

The novel coronavirus is, unfortunately for us, good at doing what viruses do best: mutating in order to become more efficient and infect more people. The delta variant, a strain first documented in India, has caused devastation in the country and is now the dominant strain in the US and many other parts of the world. During Wednesday’s announcement that all Americans will need a booster shot in the coming months, public health officials called out the delta variant’s strength as one of the reasons we’ll need a boost in immunity.

The variant is about 60% more transmissible than the alpha variant first documented in the UK, British epidemiologist Neil Ferguson told reporters in June, and it’s suspected to carry the potential for more severe disease. In a Scottish study published on June 14, researchers found that the delta variant carried double the risk of hospitalization compared with the alpha variant.

In late July, the CDC recommended fully vaccinated people start wearing masks indoors again if they live in an area of “substantial or high” COVID-19 transmission, citing how contagious the delta variant is and the way it “behaves differently” from variants of the past.

All three vaccines available in the US are said to have excellent efficacy against severe disease caused by COVID-19. But how do they fare against the more contagious variant? Research available shows that vaccination is an especially essential tool against a variant as contagious as the delta. As researchers continue to learn more, here’s what we know right now.

Breakthrough infections

Breakthrough infections, or cases of COVID-19 in people who’ve already been vaccinated against it, seem to be more common with the delta variant. A CDC report published recently showed data from a COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts in which three-quarters of people infected were fully vaccinated, and 90% of tested cases in that outbreak were caused by the delta variant. What’s more, the same report suggests that fully vaccinated people who do get a breakthrough case might be just as likely as an unvaccinated person to spread it to someone else.

The increased transmissibility of the delta variant among the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike was what spurred the newest mask recommendation by the CDC, but it drew criticism when it failed to cite its sources on breakthrough infections. A day before the CDC report from Massachusetts was released, the Washington Post published an internal presentation by the CDC. In the presentation the agency addresses how contagious the delta variant is — more contagious than the common cold or flu, and as contagious as chicken pox. It also discusses how it likely leads to more severe disease, and that it may lead to more cases of reinfection (getting COVID-19 more than once) than the alpha variant, at least when the first COVID-19 infection was more than six months or more previous.

The presentation also reiterates other research (more on that below) that shows the coronavirus vaccines remain very effective against hospitalization and death caused by COVID-19. However, it cites evidence that the coronavirus vaccines aren’t as effective in immunocompromised people or nursing home residents.

Delta’s side effects

In mild cases, the delta variant may show up a little differently. Tim Spector, British epidemiologist and co-founder of the ZOE COVID Symptom study in the UK, says that since May, the top symptoms of COVID-19 being recorded in the app have changed. He says the No. 1 symptom of COVID-19 is now headache, followed by sore throat, runny nose and fever — not the more “classic” COVID-19 symptoms. Coughing is now the fifth-reported symptom.

“We don’t even see loss of smell coming into the top 10 anymore,” he says. “This variant seems to be working slightly differently.”

Spector says these changes — which appear to be linked to the delta variant — may cause people to continue going out, thinking they have a common cold instead of COVID-19.

News of COVID-19 causing a black fungus in the sinuses and brain, and hearing loss, among other serious symptoms, in COVID-19 patients from India may be alarming and may lead you to believe the delta variant causes new and scarier side effects than older strains of the novel coronavirus. The reality is COVID-19 in all strains and forms is a formidable disease, with a myriad of side effects that can last months after infection in some people. As Business Insider reported, there isn’t enough data at this time to support the conclusion that the delta variant causes these atypical symptoms…Read more>>



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