The WHO on Tuesday said that the Delta variant of coronavirus has elbowed out all the three other COVID-19 variants of concern that now represent a tiny fraction of the samples, which are being sequenced.
What is the Delta variant?
The Delta variant of COVID-19 has been called a variant of concern by WHO because of its increased transmissibility and increased ability to cause a severe form of the disease. Where the Delta variant is identified, it quickly and efficiently spreads between people.
How did the Delta variant come about?
When a virus is circulating widely and causing numerous infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases. The more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more opportunities it has to undergo changes.
Experts are constantly monitoring new variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 to see if they spread more easily, cause more severe disease, or could have an impact on the effectiveness of public health measures or vaccines.
The best way we can limit the transmission of COVID-19 is for people to get the vaccine when available to them and continue to follow existing advice on preventing the spread of the virus, including physical distancing, wearing masks, regular handwashing and keeping indoor areas well ventilated.
WHO epidemiologist and COVID-19 technical lead, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, explained that the Delta variant has certain mutations that allow the virus to adhere to human cells more easily and that experts are also seeing a higher viral load in individuals infected.
She called Delta “dangerous and the most transmissible SARS-CoV-2 virus to date”.
“There are some laboratory studies that suggest that there’s increase replication in some of the modelled human airway systems”, she added.
In terms of severity, Dr. Van Kerkhove highlighted that there has been an increase in hospitalizations in certain countries affected by the variant, “but we haven’t yet seen an increase in mortality”.
The WHO expert reminded that although there is some data that suggest that people vaccinated can get infected and transmit the variant, the likelihood is much reduced after the second dose has been administered and reached full effectiveness.
She also clarified that Delta is not specifically targeting children as some reports have suggested, but warned that as long as the variants are circulating, they will infect anybody that is not taking proper precautions.
The WHO has named the different variants after the letters of the Greek alphabet to avoid stigma around nations where the variants were first detected.
There are five variants of interest, but the WHO COVID-19 technical lead said Eta, Iota, and Kappa were now being downgraded to variants under monitoring.
“This is really due to changes in circulation and that the variants of interest are just out-competed by the variants of concern. They’re just not taking hold,” she said.
Are children more likely to contract the Delta variant?
The Delta variant does not specifically target children. However, the Delta variant is more contagious than other strains and people who are mixing socially and those who are unvaccinated are more susceptible to contracting the Delta variant.