What Are COVID-19 Variants?
COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Mutated forms of this virus have begun appearing in various parts of the world. The mutated forms are called variants. Mutated forms of the virus are slightly different than the original strains. These differences are often inconsequential, but, in a few cases, they can pose serious new health threats to human populations.
What Is the Delta Variant of COVID-19?
The delta variant – officially B.1.617.2 – is one of the mutated forms of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has categorized delta as a “variant of concern,” meaning that there is reason to suspect that it may pose a new and somewhat different health threat to humans. It appears to be more contagious than the original virus, which is one of the criteria for designating variants of concern. The extent of the health risk represented by delta is not yet fully understood.
Has the Delta Variant Reached the United States?
Yes. The first recorded cases of delta-variant COVID-19 occurred in the U.S. in March 2021.
What are the Delta Variant Symptoms?
Symptoms of the delta-variant are generally similar to other forms of COVID-19. Infected persons experience:
- sore throat
Loss of taste and smell, common to the original virus, may be less prevalent with the delta variant.
How Common Is the Delta Variant?
The delta variant has replaced the Alpha variant as the dominant form of COVID-19 in the U.S., now accounting for more than 90 percent of all cases.
Is the Delta Variant a Source of Concern?
Yes. Delta is one of four SARS-CoV-2 variants currently categorized as a variant of concern. It is known to be highly contagious, over 50 percent more transmissive than the original virus. Its ultimate impact on public health is still being determined.
Is the Delta Variant More Contagious Than Other Forms of the Virus?
Yes. Delta appears to be the most contagious of all the SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Is the Delta Variant a Greater Health Risk Than Other Forms of the Virus?
The potential impact on health by the delta variant is currently under investigation. It is likely that unvaccinated persons are at a greater risk of being infected by delta than those who are fully vaccinated, possibly by a factor of 2.5 times, according to a recent British study. Young people may also be more at risk with delta, contrary to the original virus, which more heavily targeted the elderly.
What Is the Delta Plus Variant of COVID-19?
The delta-plus variant of SARS-CoV-2 is actually a subvariant of the more common delta variant – in other words, a mutated mutant. Designated officially as B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1, delta-plus is distinguished from delta by carrying a spike-protein mutation called K417N. (This same mutation has also occurred in subvariants of the Alpha and Beta forms of SARS-CoV-2.) This additional mutation facilitates attacks on lung cells and reduces vaccine effectiveness.
Public health officials in India and Great Britain recently named delta-plus a variant of concern, meaning that it may pose a significant potential threat to human populations. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is monitoring the progress of delta-plus, but has yet to designate it as a variant of concern.
What are the Delta-Plus Variant Symptoms?
In addition to symptoms of the delta variant, delta-plus symptoms include:
- Skin rashes
- Chest pain
- Labored breathing, and
- Discoloration of extremities (hands and feet)
How Common is the Delta-Plus Variant?
Delta-plus hs been identified as the viral source of COVID-19 in only .1 percent (one in a thousand) of U.S. cases. To date, delta-plus does not appear to be matching delta's rate of spread, though that may change over time.
Is the Delta-Plus Variant a Source of Concern?
Yes, there are some reasons for concern. Delta-plus is a subvariant of delta, which has been shown to be more transmissible than earlier forms of SARS-CoV-2. Delta-plus’ spike-protein mutation appears to allow it to bind more easily to lung cells, making it a more effective respiratory virus. There is also evidence that delta-plus may offer greater resistance to monoclonal antibody treatments, which are the primary weapon for managing more advanced cases of COVID-19. All that noted, delta-plus’ ultimate impact on public health is still being determined.
How Did the Delta and Delta-Plus Variants Originate?
Like all variants, delta is the result of mutations during reproduction. Viruses are incapable of reproducing themselves; instead, they invade cells and highjack the cell’s infrastructure and energy sources to undergo replication. When this happens, errors sometime occur in the reiteration of a virus’s genetic structure. These changes, many of which are insignificant, define a virus as mutated. Depending on the environment in which the virus is living, mutations may increase, decrease, or have no measurable impact on its likelihood of survival.
Where Were the Delta and Delta-Plus Variants First Detected?
Delta was first detected in India in December 2020.
For delta-plus, some reports indicate India while others point to Europe. Regardless, delta-plus appears to be spreading, and has now been reported in India, Russia, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, China, South Korea, Great Britain, and the United States. The first delta-plus cases in the U.S. were identified in Louisiana earlier this year.
Are the Currently Available Vaccines Effective Against the Delta Variant?
The recent emergence of delta, delta-plus, and other SARS-CoV-2 variants means that scientists are still in the process of evaluating vaccine effectiveness against the variant. Initial studies suggest that the vaccines retain their viability against delta, though perhaps at a somewhat lower rates of effectiveness. The vaccines also appear to protect against the most serious forms of infection, which means that among those individuals who do get ill, they tend to avoid the worst possible outcomes (including death).
What Is Medical Science Doing About the Delta, Delta-Plus and Other Variants?
Medical organizations and public-health bodies around the world are currently focused on understanding, treating, and preventing new outbreaks of COVID-19 based on mutated forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This focus will ultimately result in new strategies of containment and control, possibly including modified vaccines or vaccine strategies, revised public-health policies, and continuing education of vulnerable populations.
Are Unvaccinated Persons at Risk?
Yes. Unvaccinated persons are at significantly greater risk than fully vaccinated, and are much more likely to have serious disease resulting in hospitalization or death.
How Do I Protect Myself and My Family from Delta and Delta-Plus COVID-19 Variants?
You can protect yourself and your loved ones from delta and the other new variants by taking the same steps public-health organizations developed for the original outbreak of COVID-19:
- Wear masks or other protective facial coverings.
- Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away from other people.
- Avoid crowds, especially in confined spaces.
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap.
- Get vaccinated with one of three vaccines currently approved for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can click here to schedule your vaccine if you reside in Kentucky and here, if you reside in Indiana.