The Delta COVID19 variant is the new villain that has taken center stage. It is believed to be 60% more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 variant (or Alpha variant) and may be associated with an increased disease severity such as hospitalization risk. Several reports from across the country indicate that this mutant has been responsible for several complications cropping up among patients even after recovery. Here is what you know about the variant.
WHAT IS THE DELTA VARIANT? Variants are mutations of the Coronavirus. Scientists say viruses constantly mutate naturally as they replicate and circulate in their hosts. Sometimes these mutants disappear; other times, they persist. The Delta variant, known as B.1.617.2, is gaining ground worldwide and is said to have contributed to the country’s recent surge. Sometimes we can see a mutation in the mutated variant; this are called as double mutation.
According to WHO and CDC, the viruses prevalent in the United States, Europe, South America, and another part of Africa and the Asian region are of different mutants. The variant prevalent in the US is called Alfa, Beta, and Theta was prevalent in South America and Africa. Theta and Gamma were prevalent in European countries. Delta was prevalent in India and Asia by large, which has now spread to other nations too. Kappa variant was prevalent in Australia. Now, people should know that the Delta wave hasn’t come in the second wave only. It was there in the first wave as well. However, Coronavirus is an RNA virus and is in constant mutation with increasing transmissibility and virulence.
HOW DANGEROUS IS THE DELTA VARIANT? To begin with, it is important to know what variants of concern (VOC) are. There is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease, significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures are termed as VOC.
The Delta variant was under investigation/variant of Interest (VOI) even in the first wave, as it was termed as the variant of concern by the WHO. Therefore, WHO, ICMR, and other government agencies in India are closely watching its mutations. Therefore, the Delta virus falls under the category of a variant of concern as it is more transmittable, more virulent, and causes many complications.
HOW DOES THE DELTA VIRUS IMPACT HUMAN HEALTH? Now, we all know that COVID19 can cause multiple problems in the body. First is the clotting problem causing a brain stroke or a heart attack or a particular vessel getting blocked, causing gangrene of the limbs, legs, or hands or blood clots causing pulmonary embolism or even gangrene in the intestine.
Apart from blood clots in the arteries of limbs, heart, and brain, COVID19 patients are coming with intestinal clots that are causing gangrene of the GI. Similarly, clotting can cause pancreatitis as well.
The other problem is the inflammation problem called that Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome. This causes symptoms including fever or Hypothermia, Tachycardia, Tachypnoea, and a change in blood leucocyte count. Cytokine Release Syndrome (CRS) is another issue. CRS occurs when the immune system responds too aggressively to an infection. It causes a variety of symptoms, including fever, headaches, and nausea.
IS VACCINATION MY ANSWER? Yes, the vaccines available to us in our country — Covishield, Covaxin, and Sputnik put up a good defence against this variant and hold an excellent efficacy rate. So, you might wonder if vaccines work, then what is the problem. The problem is that not everybody has been vaccinated. And the variant is at its peak when the rate of vaccinations nationally has slowed down. The vaccination program will soon ramp up. Apart from this, staying at home and following all necessary COVID19 safety protocols — social distancing, wearing a mask, and hand hygiene are essential.
(Dr Chandrashekhar T. is Chief Intensivist, Fortis Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi)