What exactly is the Delta variant?

By DAISY WASHINGTON | Guest Columnist

Viruses are always changing, and that can cause a new variant, or strain, of a virus to form. A variant usually doesn’t affect how the virus works. But sometimes they make it act in different ways. Compared to the original strain, people infected with the new strain—called 614G—have higher viral loads in their nose and throat, though they don’t seem to get any sicker. But the Delta variant is more contagious and spreads faster than other forms of the virus that cause COVID-19.

During the pandemic the United States and other countries are following numerous variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 very closely. The best way to slow the appearance of new strains is to reduce the spread of infection. There are several ways to protect oneself. Whenever possible, get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccines will prevent sickness, hospitalization and death from contracting COVID-19. FDA-authorized vaccines protect against Delta and other known variants. However, it is unknown how effective the vaccines will be against new strains that appear.

Scientists monitor all variants but may classify certain ones as variants of interest, concern or high consequence based on how easily they spread, how severe their symptoms are and how they are treated. Some variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19.

The Delta variant came to the U.S. in March and now makes up 93 percent of all the new COVID-19 cases. Data suggests that the Delta variant is possibly twice as transmissible as the original strain, and there’s some early evidence that it might lead to more severe cases.

Specific variants of concern for the United States include Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma.

Alpha was first identified in the United Kingdom. This particular variant spreads much faster than others. Current authorized vaccines work against this variant, while breakthrough infections in those fully vaccinated occur but remain rare.

Beta was first identified in South Africa and possibly spreads faster than other variants. Current data does not indicate more severe illness or death than other variants. Vaccines work, while some breakthrough infections are possible but rare.

Gamma was first identified in Japan and Brazil. Dates indicate no more severe illness or death than other variants.

Delta was first identified in India and the spread is much faster and may cause more severe cases than other variants.

Daisy Washington is a community columnist and guest columnist covering Shelby County.