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The Delta variant, tagged currently as the “fastest and fittest” among coronavirus strains by the World Health Organization, have recently started to infiltrate the Philippines with a total of 216 cases as of July 29, 2021.
But how is this variant more dangerous and potentially devastating for the country in comparison to other variants?
Yale School of Public Health described the Delta or B.1.617 as “highly transmissible.” It spreads faster than the Alpha variant from the United Kingdom by fifty percent. Not to mention, it is said to be even more contagious than the original strain of the Covid-19 virus.
The US public health agency Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that the Delta variant is more transmissible than the common cold, influenza, Ebola, smallpox, MERS and SARS. They also revealed in a New York Times Report that the Delta is even more infectious than chickenpox.
This newer “variant of concern” have caused devastation to the health systems of neighboring South and Southeast Asian countries, notably with India’s overwhelming second wave. Being the Delta’s country of origin discovered in late 2020, India had suffered with about 400,000 infections a day during their second wave, and at least 4000 death toll per day.
In an article from Yalemedicine.org, Yale Medicine epidemiologist F. Perry Wilson stated that this variant “will certainly accelerate the pandemic” worldwide. As of July 5, 2021, WHO revealed that this variant has already been detected in 96 countries.
Which then brings into question, what does this mean for the Philippines whom had already surpassed its 500th day of quarantine?
Since before, more contagious Covid-19 variants have made its way within the country through foreign and local transmissions. However, because of Delta’s faster transmissibility, the World Health Organization cautioned that “it is expected that it will rapidly outcompete other variants and become the dominant circulating lineage over the coming months.”
Now that local transmissions of the Delta variant have been detected, Filipino health experts warned that due to slow genome sequencing, this could be even more widespread than what was officially detected.
For this reason, physician-scientist and global health specialist Dr. Melvin Sanicas advises the public to exercise extreme caution. From a Rappler article, Dr. Sanicas said, “We should be more serious about this one… Another way to look at it is if there are more cases, there will be more hospitalization eventually, and if there are more hospitalizations, there will be more deaths eventually.”
Symptoms of Delta Variant
According to yale medicine.org, a study from Scotland revealed that the Delta is twice more severe resulting in hospitalization than the Alpha variant from the U.K. While the symptoms of the Delta variant have similarities with the original Covid-19 strain, the Yale School of Public Health however said that there are still differences based on reports from a recent survey in UK (where 90% of the patients are currently infected with the Delta variant).
These symptoms are the following:
Less common symptoms: Cough and loss of smell (according to World Health Organization)
Meanwhile, the UC Davis Health in US reported that the Delta is more severe and faster in transmission among younger people and unvaccinated people. Though there are uncertainties among scientists regarding this claim with younger people, because of the possibility that the Delta could just simply be more infectious among unvaccinated people no matter the age groups.
People who are vaccinated on the other hand, will be asymptomatic or could develop very mild symptoms if they get infected with this variant. These mild symptoms are:
loss of smell (an addition for vaccinated people)
How to stay safe from the Delta Variant
A study by Public Health England (which has not yet been peer-reviewed) revealed that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are effective against the Delta variant. The Pfizer-BioNTech is said to be 96% effective in preventing hospitalization, while Oxford-AstraZeneca is 92% percent effective also against hospitalization.
Additionally, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have also been reported to be effective against it, though these recent studies are yet to be peer-reviewed. However, certain discussions are still being done on whether or not people vaccinated with J&J might still need booster shots.
Right now, health experts advise that the most important thing to do in order to be protected from the Delta variant is to get vaccinated at full dosage. Because aside from preventing hospitalization, the CDC stated that vaccines are also effective against severe illness and death.
In the Philippines another piece of good news is that current health protocols against Covid-19 will also be effective in lessening the spread of this variant. In a Rappler article, a Covid-19 strategy by the Healthcare Professional Alliance for Covid-19 called APAT DAPAT provides an easy-to-remember reminders on preventing the spread of the virus:
A for Air Circulation (activities done in outdoor spaces are safer than indoor spaces)
P for Physical Distancing
A for Always wear facemask and face shield, and
T for Thirty minutes interaction or less
The CDC also recommends both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear face masks especially in public places, due to the rapid and stronger transmissibility of the Delta variant. While a “breakthrough” case (in which vaccinated people still get infected) is rare, this risk is still present. Not to mention, vaccinated people can still become carriers of the virus, potentially affecting those around them who are not vaccinated, or are immunocompromised (those with weakened immune system).
A future with variants
What we should understand is that, as viruses continue to spread among populations, mutation becomes inevitable. New variants will emerge from evolving strains, possibly with newer symptoms, more contagious characteristics, and/or quicker transmissibility, as can be seen with the Delta variant.
The fight against Covid-19 is not over despite the gradual arrival of the vaccines. For this reason, it is important to always be cautious, to take care of our bodies, and to exercise health protocols; in order to keep ourselves, and the people around us, safe from the Delta and other Covid-19 variants.