As a more highly contagious and lethal version of the coronavirus, the Delta variant has driven a surge of COVID-19 cases throughout our country – and worldwide.
Here’s important key points to understand.
- The Delta variant is hyper-transmissible, even among vaccinated people. Genetic mutations make the virus able to more effectively enter cells, suppress immune responses and increase viral load. It may produce a thousand times more virus in the nasal passages and upper respiratory tract, early in the infection–when people may not exhibit overt symptoms.
- Although children have a lower risk of contracting COVID-19, this highly contagious Delta variant is more infectious among children, especially those who are unvaccinated – like our younger than 12 children who aren’t approved for a vaccine.
- Healthcare providers are still seeing many who are infected, exhibit the same symptoms. However, there are reports that the Delta variant symptoms may vary. And because Delta has the ability to impact vaccinated individuals, the mutated strain can prompt infections that don’t present symptoms at all (aka “asymptomatic”) or milder cases that can be hard to detect. Initial reports are adding that runny nose, sneezing and headaches were also exhibited, but official findings haven’t been released. Experts also note that some symptoms may start mild or similar to allergies or another common sickness. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, get tested for COVID-19.
- People who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are most at risk –
including those who have been infected with COVID-19, in the past. As the Delta variant surges across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone eligible should get the vaccine – including those who have been infected with COVID-19 in the past. While antibodies from a COVID-19 infection may offer some degree of protection against a future infection (aka “natural immunity”), those who have already had the virus may still be vulnerable—perhaps especially to the Delta variant. A recent study compared reinfection rates of people who had previously had COVID-19 and found that unvaccinated individuals were more than twice as likely to be reinfected than fully vaccinated individuals. For that reason, and others, including the fact that the level of natural immunity protection can drastically vary between individuals, many experts don’t recommend relying on natural immunity alone to prevent a COVID-19 infection. The vaccine elicits many more antibodies than a natural infection, so even as the vaccine declines, the protection lasts longer than it would from a natural infection.
- Experts are learning more about Delta and breakthrough cases – and while severe breakthrough infections of COVID-19 among the fully vaccinated remain uncommon, there is a growing number of Americans that are testing positive. And, among the uncommon cases of the fully or partially vaccinated, it’s clear vaccines make it more likely to have a milder and shorter illness compared to the unvaccinated. That’s the power of vaccination — it reduces the severity of illness and symptoms and risk of hospitalization and dying. Your risk is significantly lower than someone who has not been vaccinated and you are safer than you were before you got your vaccination. Reports underscore the unlikeliness of breakthrough infections resulting in a hospitalization or death among the vaccinated.
- It’s important to understand that in part, where you live (work, go to school, church, shop, play, travel) —and how many people in those locales are unvaccinated, drives Delta variant infections. Some experts call it ‘patchwork vaccination,’ where you have pockets that are highly vaccinated that are adjacent to places that have 20% vaccination. The problem is that this allows the virus to hop, skip, and jump from one poorly vaccinated area to another.
- There remains a lot of unknowns about the Delta variant. Researchers are examining whether it’s causing different symptoms from earlier variants to how it’s experienced by vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Stay informed as more is learned — and remain vigilant in taking protective actions for you, your loved ones, and community.
- Vaccines are the best tool to protect against the Delta variant – and when it comes to preventing serious disease, hospitalization, and death, all three vaccines are extremely reliable. And, too, vaccinated or not, it’s also important to follow CDC prevention guidelines with respect to vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Like everything in life, there is an ongoing risk assessment. Face masks can provide additional protection. Avoiding large gatherings and social distancing are important, as well, especially in a high-transmission areas.
The clear message is that as long as vaccinations of populations remain incomplete – and smart social distancing and masking are not observed, we’re very likely to experience more waves of COVID-19 surges throughout our nation.
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.