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Guest Blog: My Tangle with the Delta Variant of COVID-19

As the Zoonotic Diseases Coordinator for the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, I am required to remain abreast of emerging zoonotic diseases worldwide. The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus responsible for causing COVID-19, happens to be one of those diseases.

My Experience with COVID

I first became aware of the novel coronavirus disease on January 7, 2020, before it was widely known to much of the world. I watched in disbelief as it spread People wearing amsks in a subwayfrom China into northern Italy during “Fashion Week”, and then throughout Europe, the US, and the rest of the world. Naturally, working for the Health Department, I became inculcated in the COVID-19 mitigation strategies of mask usage, social distancing, handwashing, and avoiding crowded places. When vaccines became available, I was responsible for coordinating the vaccinations of our own division staff, so we could assist in the processing of thousands of county residents at our mass vaccination site. Wherever I went, I spread the gospel of vaccination and mask usage. I thought I was protected, invincible, with my mask over my face and vaccine in my arm. Then I let my guard down and the unthinkable happened – the Delta Variant!

Then, Delta…

On a long weekend holiday, I didn’t wear a mask when mingling with some vaccinated friends.  They were suffering from “allergies”, or so they thought – until they discovered they were COVID-19 positive. The time from my exposure to having symptoms and testing positive was lightning fast at only 48 hours; not the 5-6 days originally thought. How could this be possible – my friends were vaccinated and so was I?  With the Delta Variant, all things changed.

Model of the SARS-CoV-2 VirusThe Delta Variant of COVID-19 is insidious. Unlike the original version of the disease, which manifested itself as high fever, dry hacking cough, and loss of taste and smell, the Delta Variant is different. It presents initially with relatively mild symptoms that you can easily confuse for allergies, a common cold, or sinusitis. The most commonly reported symptoms are a headache, followed by a sore throat, runny nose, and low-grade fever. Hence many people are out and about not realizing they are COVID-19 positive, and passing it on (1).

Data indicate that Delta Variant is 40-60% more transmissible than Alpha (British) Variant and almost twice as transmissible as the original Wuhan strain of SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, significantly more viral particles have been found in the airways of patients infected with the Delta Variant. A Chinese study reported that viral loads in Delta infections were ~1,000 times higher than those in infections caused by other variants (2)(3).

Vaccine Effectiveness

What is particularly chilling about the Delta Variant is its ability to cut through vaccines.  A new CDC study showed the Delta Covid-19 variant produced similar amounts of virus in vaccinated and unvaccinated people that got infected. Out of the 469 identified cases of COVID-19 in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, 346 or 74% of them were vaccine breakthrough infections, of which the Delta Variant was responsible for 90% of the genetically sequenced cases. This information prompted the CDC to renew the use of masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status (2)(4).

Thanks to my vaccination, however, my COVID-19 symptoms were moderate. It was basically a bad head cold. I suffered from headache, sinus congestion, a runny nose, a mild sore throat, low-grade fever, loss of taste and smell, chills, body aches, and malaise. The worst symptoms were over within one week. The congestion never descended into my lungs, nor did I have a persistent cough. My breathing was never compromised. The second week was just residual congestion and malaise, and by the end of the third week, I was completely normal.  Frankly, I’ve had much worse cases of influenza. However, if I had not been vaccinated, I might not have been so lucky.

BOTTOM LINE
  • Get vaccinated and don’t let your guard down. The vaccine will protect you from having a bad outcome.
  • Continue to mask indoors, and stay away from crowded places.
  • If you have mild cold-like symptoms, get tested immediately, even if you are vaccinated.
  • If you are sick, STAY HOME.

Pat Fricano is a collaborator and regular contributor to the UF-IFAS One Health Center of Excellence where he regularly posts a summary of current Zoonotic Articles on the Center’s Weekly Zoonotic Updates webpage: https://onehealth.ifas.ufl.edu/resources/animals-and-covid/.

REFERENCES

  1. Are COVID Symptoms Different With Delta?

https://www.medpagetoday.com/special-reports/exclusives/93997

  1. How Dangerous is the Delta Variant (B.1.617.2)?

https://asm.org/Articles/2021/July/How-Dangerous-is-the-Delta-Variant-B-1-617-2

  1. Dissecting the Unusual Biology of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta Variant.

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/dissecting-the-unusual-biology-of-the-sars-cov-2-delta-variant-69068

  1. CDC Shares ‘Pivotal Discovery’ on Covid-19 Breakthrough Infections and Mask Guidance.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/30/health/breakthrough-infection-masks-cdc-provincetown-study/index.html

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