The Delta Threat: What You Should Know About the COVID-19 Variant

Photo from: Weill Cornell Medicine

Saying that the COVID-19 pandemic is nearing its end can never be further from the truth. While multiple COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out in different parts of the world, our attempts at protecting ourselves seem to be trickier than ever. Just as we continue to adapt to the current state, so does the COVID-19 virus. Premier health institutions worldwide are still looking for certain coronavirus mutations and variants, especially those that might be deadly or highly contagious. 

As the coronavirus mutates, the resulting variants may be more infectious or aggressive. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and other top medical institutions monitor these emerging variants. Viruses constantly evolve and change through mutation. That is why keeping a close eye on these mutations can better protect and prepare us for the future.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Delta Variant

Going deeper into the workings of the SARSS-CoV-2 virus can get too overwhelming, so here’s a list of frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 Delta variant and how to protect yourself from it.

What is the Delta Variant?

The Delta variant is a virus strain or variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is the most contagious of all the variants we have faced so far. With its rate of transmission, the Delta variant is considered highly contagious and “will certainly accelerate the pandemic,” according to Yale Medicine epidemiologist F. Perry Wilson, MD

The variant originally surfaced in India last December 2020, which spread throughout the entire country at an alarming speed. It then swept across Great Britain as well, where it was first identified. 

According to researchers, the Delta variant is around 50% more contagious than the Alpha variant, which is also classified under “variants of concern.” This classification was developed by the US SIG (SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group) to categorize the different COVID-19 variants for easier monitoring. 

These three classes of SARS-CoV-2 variants include the following:

  • Variant of Interest – includes variants with specific genetic markers that might influence transmission rate, diagnostics, the efficacy of treatment, and severity of the disease. 
  • Variant of Concern – includes variants that have evidence of reduced efficacy of treatments and vaccines, higher transmission rate, and increase in severity of the disease.
  • Variant of High Consequence – includes variants that have clear evidence of a significant reduction in vaccine effectiveness and diagnostics, as well as more severe clinical diseases brought on by the virus. So far, no SARS-CoV-2 variants are under this classification.

How many COVID-19 variants are there?

Currently, four notable variants are closely monitored in the United States and the rest of the world. The most widespread is the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) which was first detected in December 2020 in the US. Next is the Beta variant (B.1.351), which was initially detected in December 2020 in South Africa. 

The Gamma variant (P.1) was first seen in travelers coming from Brazil early this year. It was detected through routine screening at an airport in Japan. 

Lastly, the Delta variant (B.1.617.2), initially detected in December last year in India. This last one being the most contagious of all the SARS-CoV-2 variants. 

Why is the Delta variant highly contagious?

As the virus transfers from one person to another, it also creates versions of itself. This is called a mutation that creates changes in the behavior of the virus. 

According to a study published by Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Delta variant spreads more rapidly in a person’s respiratory system, especially in their respiratory tract. This particular variant or strain contains mutations on its spike protein, making it easier for the virus to attach and infect healthy human cells, particularly in the nose and lungs. 

This means that the Delta variant spreads much faster than the Alpha variant and the original strain of the coronavirus. According to the same study, those infected with the Delta variant have about a thousand more copies of the coronavirus in their respiratory tracts. This is much higher compared to individuals who are infected with the original strain. 

On average, the delta variant is detectable within four days of infection. That makes it faster than the typical six days for the original coronavirus strain. This means that infected people are more likely to spread the Delta variant early on during their infection.

Most doctors would strictly advise persons who had contact with people who contracted COVID-19 to immediately go into quarantine for 14 days. It is also essential that you wear masks and follow all minimum health regulations and protocols. 

Is the Delta variant more deadly?

The short answer is no; the Delta variant is not necessarily more deadly. Rather than being more deadly, the Delta variant is highly contagious. This means that it can easily spread from one person to another, making the virus more aggressive than ever. As a result, there are higher chances of getting more infections, leading to complications and severe sickness. 

The more mutations a virus undergoes, the more dangerous and contagious it becomes. According to Robert Bollinger, an expert in SARS-CoV-2 and professor of infectious diseases, “more infections from a faster-spreading variant will lead to more deaths.” 

To summarize, the Delta variant is more dangerous because it spreads fast. This then makes it harder to contain and increasing the chance of more people getting infected.

What’s the best way to avoid the Delta variant?

The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 and its variants is to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Scientists are still looking at the effectiveness of vaccines and the possibility of the Delta variant causing breakthrough cases. However, such cases are quite rare. 

If vaccines are not yet available, the best practice is to comply with the minimum health regulations. These are simple things like wearing face masks and staying at home as much as possible.

With the country on the verge of going back to day one of community quarantine, it feels like the pandemic’s just beginning again. But with our experience and preparation from the previous year, we can now make smarter decisions to keep ourselves and our homes healthier.

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