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Understanding the COVID-19 Delta Variant

Published on Jul. 11, 2021

You may be hearing the term “Delta Variant” popping up more often in recent days. This new version of the COVID-19 virus has been identified in northern Michigan and has many physicians and infectious disease professionals worried.

What’s so special about the Delta Variant? Do we really need to worry about Delta’s impact this far up north?

“We’re seeing preliminary data from other countries that shows the Delta infection causes more hospitalization and may have a higher impact on respiratory illness,” said Christine Nefcy, MD, FAAP, Munson Healthcare Chief Medical Officer. “It’s a really good reminder that we’re not out of this pandemic yet. There’s still reason to be concerned.”

Here’s what you need to know about the COVID-19 Delta variant along with some helpful strategies for keeping you and your family protected.

What is the COVID-19 Delta Variant?

Viruses must constantly infect new hosts to replicate and survive. COVID-19 is no different. When the virus replicates, a slight change in its blueprint creates a mutation, which is also known as a variant.

The “Delta” variant of COVID-19 was first identified in India back in December 2020. Scientists studying the virus gave Delta the reference number B.1617. This variant was first detected in the United States and began to spread in March 2021.

Its transmission rate means the Delta variant will likely become a larger concern throughout the summer. In fact, a recent estimate from the CDC shows the Delta variant now makes up the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States.

What makes the Delta Variant so concerning?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Delta Variant is the “fastest and fittest” variant yet. That means this version of the COVID-19 virus has mutated into a form that can spread much more easily than earlier stains.

Current evidence shows Delta can spread about fifty percent more easily than the Alpha variant known as B.117. The Alpha variant, which was most active in the spring, was able to transmit 40-60 percent more easily than the original virus strain.

In addition to a faster spread, evidence is beginning to show additional characteristics making Delta a true variant of concern:

  • Delta may cause a more severe form of the disease. Anecdotally, “additional” COVID-19 disease symptoms not seen in earlier forms of the virus may include stomach pain, nausea, loss of appetite, hearing loss, and joint pain.
  • Delta may have an ability to partially resist antibody response from both natural infection and vaccination.
  • Delta may also be less affected by certain monoclonal antibody treatments.

Scientists continue to study Delta in countries with more significant spread. However, an increase in the number of cases locally could lead to more hospitalizations and put a strain on healthcare resources.

“If this variant becomes common, that means going to church, school, or the store will become much more dangerous because the transmission rate is that much faster,” said James Whelan, MD, Munson Healthcare Cadillac Hospital Chief Medical Officer.

“If we track the path the Delta virus has taken in states with lower vaccination rates, we see cases doubling every two weeks. That means if we have one case today, in two weeks we’d have two cases, and by the time school starts we’ll have cases in the hundreds.”

Some areas of the United States are already seeing COVID-19 case surges caused by Delta, primarily impacting unvaccinated individuals. Unfortunately, there is potential for this variant to affect local areas in a similar way— especially those northern Michigan counties with lower vaccination rates.

Is the COVID-19 Delta Variant affecting fully vaccinated individuals?

So far, studies are suggesting the available authorized vaccines are holding up against all circulating variants. However, vaccine efficacy against Delta may be lower by as much as six percent.

Current evidence also reveals skipping the second dose of a two-dose vaccine significantly affects the immune response to Delta. That means if you’re scheduled to receive a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, please make sure to receive your second dose as scheduled to make sure you have the highest level of protection.

See the video below:

How can we stay safe from the COVID-19 Delta variant?

The best way to guard against the Delta variant is for you and your family to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at your earliest opportunity. Community vaccination dramatically reduces the capability for the virus to spread by eliminating available hosts.

Among those infected with COVID-19, including by the Delta variant, vaccination also helps lower the chances of developing severe symptoms or being hospitalized.

If you have children ages 12 years and older returning to school, vaccination today will ensure they’re as protected as possible before team sports begin in late August and in-person school resumes. 

Keep in mind nearly all U.S. COVID-19 deaths reported in June were among unvaccinated individuals. Similarly, more than ninety percent of Munson Healthcare COVID-19 inpatient hospitalizations are unvaccinated. If you haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine, it’s critically important to remain vigilant and protect yourself as best you can.

Other virus mitigation strategies include:

  • Wearing a mask when you leave the house to help protect yourself and others.
  • Avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.

One thing is clear: halting the spread of Delta and other COVID-19 variants should be a top priority for everyone in northern Michigan.

What if I have additional Delta variant questions or concerns?

If you have additional questions, please reach out to Munson Healthcare Ask-A-Nurse at 231-935-0951. Our nursing team is here for you daily from 7 am to 11 pm at no charge. Representatives are happy to answer any health questions you may have.

Ask-a-Nurse   231-935-0951

Please make sure to visit our COVID-19 pages for more vaccination resources and answers to your frequently asked questions.

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