5 THINGS TO KNOW: What should we know about the Delta variant?

Dr. Jennifer Rudd

Dr. Jennifer Rudd, a veterinarian, researcher and a board certified microbiologist at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, details the Delta variant as we head into the fall.

1. Delta spreads faster.

The Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 emerged from India in late 2020 and has spread across the globe like wildfire by out-competing other variants worldwide. How did it do this? While the exact mechanism is still being studied, this variant tweaked its outer spike protein to better bind to and infect our cells than it ever has before. People infected with Delta have over 1,000 times more virus in their cells than the original strain, making Delta infection spread sooner after exposure than ever before and with much higher amounts of virus, resulting in rapid spread from person-to-person.

2. The symptoms may be a little different.

Gone are the days where loss of smell was a go-to symptom for COVID-19. Common signs of Delta infection include headache, runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat — sounds a lot like allergies or a cold, right? That’s problematic because many people will assume it’s “not COVID” and continue their lives while shedding large amounts of virus to others. And many will still end up hospitalized since the inflammatory damage from COVID is far more severe than that in allergies or a cold. Coughing, fever, and loss of smell or taste are all still possible, just not a hallmark sign in every case. So please get tested frequently.

3. Delta isn’t necessarily more severe in kids — but it is more transmissible.

We don’t yet know if Delta causes more severe disease in kids than previous variants, but we do know it spreads through unvaccinated people, including children, rapidly. The vast majority of kids that are infected with Delta will not experience severe illness, but as we see the numbers go up, we will naturally see more children who are hospitalized or have long-term complications from COVID-19.

4. Your vaccine is working.

We are well over a year into a global pandemic and we can all appreciate that our public health choices fall into a balancing act of protecting our families and continuing the human contact that keeps us sane. This is best achieved through vaccination. The available vaccines are safe, well-studied and remain effective. As new variants emerge, the ability of the vaccine to prevent infection does drop a little. For example, the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine was originally 99% effective at preventing severe disease, then dropped to 93% effective with the Alpha variant, and currently sits around 88% with the Delta variant. Here’s the thing though. 88% is still very good. Breakthrough infections among the vaccinated remain rare and disease in these instances often remains mild. This vaccine is worth it.

5. We need you to make good choices.

The choices we make this fall will be a little different depending on our families, communities and lifestyle. I know we all have decision fatigue, but we need to think critically just a little bit longer. There will be settings where masking remains appropriate regardless of vaccine status — especially in large indoor crowds. There will be events that may not be worth the risk to you or your family depending on vaccine status and your health. Most importantly, if you are eligible for COVID vaccination but have not received it, please get any lingering questions answered and make the choice to get vaccinated. We are truly fighting a pandemic of the unvaccinated at this point. This includes people who could be vaccinated but are choosing not to, children who are not yet eligible, and indirectly includes immune compromised people who may be able to be vaccinated but will not have as protective an immune response to the vaccine. Getting vaccinated is the biggest gift you can give our children and our community this fall.

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