As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted andthe pace of vaccinations has slowed in the U.S., the rise of a new coronavirus variant worries some health experts. The variant, known as the Delta or B.1.617.2, was first detected in India and has spread to more than 60 countries. In the United Kingdom, it accounts for nearly all new coronavirus cases.
“Globally, Delta is the most serious development that we know of in terms of the evolution of the virus,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
In the U.S., it accounts for about 10% of infections, though in some states it accounts for over 20% of sampled coronavirus cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So what is it about the Delta variant that has health experts worried? Here’s what experts say.
What are the Delta variant symptoms?
Dr. Bhakti Hansoti is an associate professor of emergency medicine and international health at Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg School of Public Health. Hansoti said Delta variant infections in India and the U.S. come with all the samesymptoms of the original Sars-CoV-2 virus, just more severe.
Hansoti said doctors have seen an increased likelihood of hearing loss, severe stomach pains and nausea in patients infected with the new variant. In most cases, patients are more likely to be hospitalized, require oxygen treatments and endure other complications.
Coronavirus variant that first appeared in India arrives in U.S.: Here’s what to know.
Should vaccinated Americans be worried?
No, if you received your second dose.
A new study from Public Health England showed two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 88% effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant, and even more successful at preventing hospitalization and death. The study, however, found one dose of the Pfizer vaccine was only 33% protective.
“So without that (second dose) it still leaves them very vulnerable [to sickness] and this variant is highly transmissible,” Hansoti told USA TODAY.
Jonathan Baktari, CEO of e7 Health a health care and wellness company, said the Delta variant is a testament to why it’s important to get both doses of the vaccine.
Delta is the ‘most serious’ variant: How will it affect the US?
Vaccines against variants: Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine protects against virus variants, study shows
How do variants form?
The CDC says coronavirus variants are the result of changes to the virus’ genes. Every time a virus replicates, mutations naturally occur in its genetic material. The CDC lists a total of nine common variants it’s monitoring.
Fact check: Coronavirus variants come from mutations, not vaccines
Why are health experts concerned?
Baktari said the biggest threat with the Delta variant is its ability to infect easily and quickly. He compared it to a sticky object — if one infected person is in a room and talks or sneezes, it will easier stick to another person.
“The aerosol will release the virus and the virus has an easier time sticking to its next victim as it were,” Baktari said.
Hansoti’s concerns lie not just with the variant but with Americans’ urge to return to normal this summer. People are burned out from months of social distancing and isolation. It’s time for socializing, holidays and vacations. Those activities mixed with a highly transmissible variant is a worry, especially among the unvaccinated.
“It’s the confluence of all of these things, decreasing restrictions and then a highly transmissible variant with increased severity of illness on a platform of a burned-out, overstretched health system, which could potentially be a chaotic third wave for America,” Hansoti said.
How can Americans reduce the spread in the US?
“Get vaccinated and wait two weeks. Remain careful and stay home if you feel any type of sickness,” Baktari recommends. He added that combatting vaccine hesitancy and reaching herd immunity is the key to reducing the spread of the Delta variant and all coronavirus variants.
Rather than resorting to an “all or nothing” response, Hansoti said it’s time to establish a “new normal” to prevent further surges.
“We need masking in public areas, limited gathering sizes and increased scrutiny in schools and public spaces where people can be symptomatic,” Hansoti said. “If not, after the Delta variant, another variant will just come and surge again.”
Contributing: Karen Weintraub. Follow Gabriela Miranda on Twitter: @itsgabbymiranda