Whether you’re relieved and ready to roll this summer, or cautious and curious about the latest news, you probably have questions about the COVID-19 delta variant. Mobeen Rathore, MD, chief of pediatric infectious disease and immunology at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, shed some light on the latest pandemic threat.
Here are 5 things you need to know:
1. The delta variant is no longer just overseas. The deadly strain swept through India in April and May 2021 and now, it’s here in the United States. “The prevalence of this variant is increasing and it is now the dominant strain in the nation,” Dr. Rathore said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated delta made up more than half of cases nationwide at the beginning of July 2021.
2. Delta is more contagious and can cause serious illness. “It is more dangerous than the other coronavirus strains we have seen and will get worse if not enough people are protected through vaccinations,” Dr. Rathore warned. “We will have other variants that could be more serious and dangerous.”
The initial symptoms of the delta variant tend to be similar to regular COVID-19 and a common cold (headache, runny nose, sore throat, fever), but cough and loss of taste and/or smell are less commonly reported than in earlier strains.
3. Younger people are getting hit hard. Those who have not been vaccinated are most at risk for the new variant. People under 50, including children who are not old enough to get vaccinated, are more likely to get infected. Like health systems across the country, Baptist Health is starting to see an uptick of COVID-19 patients in the 30- to 40-year-old age range who are unvaccinated. Communities in which vaccination rates are low are at highest risk.
4. Vaccines offer the best protection. Getting vaccinated helps stop the spread of the virus. Though vaccinated people may still get infected with the delta variant, they are less likely to require hospitalization and will probably not get as ill as those who haven’t gotten the shot.
“More than 99% of fatalities have occurred in the unimmunized,” Dr. Rathore stressed.
5. Stopping the spread is not the only reason to get the vaccine. It’s not just about trying to avoid getting sick. Unvaccinated individuals are susceptible to the virus, and once a person is infected, the virus has a host in which it can replicate. That's what causes mutation.
“It’s important to get vaccinated to keep the virus from becoming more virulent, causing more serious disease,” said Dr. Rathore. “Viruses mutate all the time, and to do that they have to multiply and replicate. That means they need somebody who is susceptible to infection as a host. It will get worse if we don’t vaccinate.”
So how can you protect yourself from the delta variant?
“Get the vaccine. It is the only way,” Dr. Rathore urged. “You can still use masks and practice social distancing, but the vaccine is really the way to protect yourself.”