Credits: Farah Siddique 

For the first time in more than a year, we are feeling some hope or at least cautious optimism, that the pandemic could recede to the background. But experts want us to know that there is still a concern that new mutations of the virus could bring it back, and it might be even stronger. A major concern right now is Delta, a highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus strain, which was first identified in India in December. It then swept rapidly through that country and Great Britain as well. The first Delta case in the United States was diagnosed in March and it is now the dominant strain in the U.S. But one thing that is unique about the delta variant is that its spreading way quickly. 

Here are the five most important things one needs to know about the Delta Variant:

1- Delta is more contagious than the other virus strains. 

Delta is the name for the B.1.617.2. variant, a SARS-CoV-2 mutation that originally surfaced in India. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called this version of the virus “the fastest and fittest.” The CDC labeled Delta as “a variant of concern.” It is said that in a completely unmitigated environment where no one is vaccinated or wearing masks it’s estimated that the average person infected with the original coronavirus strain will infect 2.5 other people. In the same environment Delta would spread from one person to another 3.5 or 4 people. 

2- Unvaccinated people are at risk

People who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are most at risk. A recent study from the United Kingdom showed that children and adults under 50 were 2.5 times more likely to become infected with Delta. As older age groups get vaccinated, those who are younger and unvaccinated will be at higher risk of getting COVID-19 with any variant.   But Delta seems to be impacting younger age groups more than previous variants.

3- Delta could lead to Hyper Local Outbreaks

If Delta continues to move fast enough to accelerate the pandemic, the biggest questions will be about transmissibility, how many people will get the Delta variant and how fast will it spread? The answers could depend, in part, on where you live—and how many people in your location are vaccinated. In some cases, a low-vaccination town that is surrounded by high vaccination areas could end up with the virus contained within its borders, and the result could be “hyperlocal outbreaks,”. Then, the pandemic could look different than what we’ve seen before, where there are real hotspots around the country.

4- There is more to learn about Delta

Another question focuses on how Delta affects the body. There have been reports of symptoms that are different than those associated with the original coronavirus strain, It seems like cough and loss of smell are less common. And headache, sore throat, runny nose, and fever are present based on the most recent surveys in the U.K., where more than 90% of the cases are due to the Delta strain. It’s unclear whether Delta could cause more breakthrough cases—infections in people who have been vaccinated or have natural immunity from a prior COVID-19 infection, which so far have been rare in general. Will vaccinated people need booster shots to protect against Delta? Some experts say it’s too soon to know whether we will need a booster modified to target the Delta variant—or to bolster protection against the original virus. But both Pfizer and Moderna are working on boosters, although they would still face the hurdle of getting FDA authorization for them.

5- Vaccination is the best protection against Delta

The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from Delta is to get fully vaccinated, the doctors say. At this point, that means if you get a two-dose vaccine like Pfizer or Moderna, for example, you must get both shots and then wait the recommended two-week period for those shots to take full effect. Whether or not you are vaccinated, it’s also important to follow CDC prevention guidelines that are available for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Face masks can provide additional protection and the WHO has encouraged mask-wearing even among vaccinated people.

Of course, there are many people who cannot get the vaccine, because their doctor has advised them against it for health reasons or because personal logistics or difficulties have created roadblocks or they may choose not to get it. Will the Delta variant be enough to encourage those who can get vaccinated to do so? No one knows for sure, but it’s possible.