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The Looming Danger of COVID-19’s Delta variant

Mere months after the world enjoyed a decrease in the coronavirus risk, a new highly infectious, dangerous COVID-19 variant emerged. The Delta variant is wreaking havoc on all the progress gained in the fight against the pandemic while spreading rapidly all over the globe like vicious fire. Thus, the world is now witnessing the looming dangers of the Delta variant, officially known as B.1.617.2.

Main Concern

Back in May, the UN declared India’s new coronavirus variant, known as the Delta variant, a “variant of concern.” Not only is this variant more transferable than its predecessors, but it also reduces the effectiveness of vaccines or treatments. Evidence even proves that the Delta variant is more contagious than Britain’s alpha variant, raising the level of global concern. For example, according to C.D.C. figures, the Delta variant is responsible for the infection of 1 out of 4 coronavirus cases in the United States. 

“Let’s say you have 10 people with 20 close contacts,” explained Dr. David Dowdy, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “With one variant, maybe you see five of those close contacts get infected. If a second variant is 50 percent more transmissible, that number would be 50 percent higher. So in this case, you would expect 7.5 of those contacts to be infected, after accounting for vaccination status and whether they had a previous infection.”

A shift in symptoms

After a year and a half fight with the pandemic, the world became more acquainted with the symptoms of the coronavirus. Yet, this variant seems to shift in the symptoms criteria as well. Through a self-reporting mobile application, the United Kingdom was able to identify the difference between the traditional coronavirus and India’s variant. Thus, like the traditional COVID-19, Delta can cause fever and cough. Moreover, cases of headache and sore throat are more prominent within the Delta variant patients.

“What we’ve noticed is the last month, we’re seeing different sets of symptoms than we were seeing in January,” said Tim Spector, a genetic epidemiologist at King’s College London, who leads the study.

According to these statistics, the loss of smell seems less frequent within the Delta patients than the traditional coronavirus patients. More importantly, one of Delta’s most prominent symptoms is experiencing a runny nose. So what we usually consider a mild to bad winter cold can easily turn out to be a highly infectious virus. 

The reasons behind the report of cold-like symptoms are still not clear. Further, since the data mainly rely on self-report, some experts are questioning the accuracy of the symptoms. “I’ll wait for published data before I make a conclusion,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan. “The fact is Covid is generally associated with a wide variety of symptoms, so it’s hard to say if this is truly unusual or if this is anecdotal.” 

The Vaccine’s protection

Though there is no proficient data on the effectiveness of all the vaccines in the face of the delta variant, most scientists agree that the Delta variant will most likely provide a low risk to fully vaccinated individuals. According to Scottish research, both Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines can retain most of their protection in the face of the variant.

In another study, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was able to provide 88% protection against this variant, while a single shot of the same vaccine was only able to provide 33% protection. “Fully immunized individuals should do well with this new phase of the epidemic,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “However, the protection offered by a single dose appears low, and of course if you are not at all vaccinated, consider yourself at high risk.”

The Delta plus variant

The mutation of the original COVID-19 is the main reason behind the surge in many dangerous variants all over the world, including the recent  B.1.617.2 variant. After getting infected, the human body serves as a host, allowing the virus to evolve into a more lethal strain.  

Thus, in India, researchers are discovering a sublineage variant, branching from the original Delta into a new mutation. The new mutation, dubbed as the Delta plus variant, is still not classified as a variant of concern. However, even though 11 countries reported it, experts are still uncertain about its risk and level of transmissibility. 

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