Geriatrician, Hospitalist, Patient Advocate, Healthcare Educator

COVID Variants

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation

With COVID cases increasing in the United States and elsewhere, schools opening, debate of masking or not masking, a multitude of hospitals reporting beds at full capacity, it is evident that the pandemic is far from over. We have a multitude of new variants of coronavirus now and what appears to be a long fall and winter ahead of us.

What are variants?

  • Variants occur due to one or more mutations of the original virus and are better at escaping the immune response lodged by our bodies.
  • Some variants of concern:
    • Alpha -B.1.1.7-first identified in United Kingdom
    • Beta -B.1.351-first identified in South Africa
    • Gamma -P.1-first identified in Japan/Brazil
    • Delta -B.1.617.2-first identified in India
    • Lambda -C.37-first identified in Peru, has not been labeled as a variant of concern by CDC but has been by WHO, it is being watched now as it is spreading rapidly in South America

Why are we concerned about the delta variant?

  • The delta variant accounts for over 93% of all new COVID cases and has caused a rapid spread in multiple states.
  • It is highly contagious and therefore spreads quickly-it is as contagious as chicken pox and twice as contagious as the original COVID-19 virus
  • It affects unvaccinated people more
  • Younger people seem to be getting affected more with more hospitalization rates but it is unclear if this is related to less vaccination rates
  • In vaccinated people, it has been shown to cause breakthrough cases

What are the symptoms of Delta variant?

  • cough, runny nose, sore throat, headache, loss of smell
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are less common with the delta variant
  • For those vaccinated, they could be mild symptoms and you are less likely to require hospitalization but recent studies show you may have a high viral load so could pass it on to others

What can we do?

  • We can do the stuff that we know works
  • Take the vaccine if you have not
  • Mask up
  • Social distancing when appropriate
  • Keep up with the hand hygiene