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Delta got you down? Facts about the variant and tips to protect yourself

Key Points

  • The COVID-19 Delta variant is a stronger (and dominant) version of the original strain, which has gone through a number of mutations.
  • Delta variant symptoms are similar to the original strain. The major difference is that people are getting sicker quicker and at a higher level of intensity due to the virus growing more rapidly.
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca mRNA vaccines have bee found to be 88% effective against Delta after two doses, and 30.7% efficacy after one dose.
Delta got you down? Facts about the variant and tips to protect yourself

Key Points

  • The COVID-19 Delta variant is a stronger (and dominant) version of the original strain, which has gone through a number of mutations.
  • Delta variant symptoms are similar to the original strain. The major difference is that people are getting sicker quicker and at a higher level of intensity due to the virus growing more rapidly.
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca mRNA vaccines have bee found to be 88% effective against Delta after two doses, and 30.7% efficacy after one dose.

There’s a lot of conflicting information about the Delta variant and how to respond to this new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. So if you’re feeling confused, you’re not alone — it’s tough to keep track of so many fast-moving details.

A lot of people, especially those with families to protect, have shared with us that they’re worried about how the virus will impact their everyday lives, health, and personal safety.

To address some of these concerns, we put together a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs), with answers, to offer some clarity and hopefully alleviate some stress. If you find this resource valuable, please pass it along to your friends and family.

Overview

Why is the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) so concerning?

To answer this question, it’s helpful to have an understanding of how virus variants come to be. One expert researcher at Tufts University has written an excellent article on the topic, in case you’re interested in learning more.

The simple summary is that viruses, which you can think of as “pieces of information,” mutate over time as they spread. As infections continue, the mutations take over to become the dominant strains. Sometimes, viruses become stronger, and sometimes, they become weaker.

The COVID-19 Delta variant is a stronger (and dominant) version of the original strain, which has gone through a number of mutations.

What are the health impacts of the Delta variant?

Earlier this summer, researchers found that Delta was almost twice as transmissible as the original strain due to having 1,000 times the viral load.

Researchers are working quickly to study the Delta variant, paying close attention to the short- and long-term impacts. One early finding is that the virus is causing an increase in pandemic-related hospitalizations among children.

It is important to remember that this highly infectious disease is new, so the long-term health impacts will be unknown until time passes. Early signals point to the possibility of long COVID, which involves symptoms continuing for more than 12 weeks with no other explainable cause. Research from University College London (UCL) found 200 symptoms affecting 10 organ systems happening at higher levels than in people who had recovered. Common symptoms of long COVID according to the British National Health Service (NHS) include:

  • extreme tiredness
  • shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain or tightness
  • problems with memory and concentration ("brain fog")
  • changes to taste and smell
  • joint pain

The COVID-19 has created a strain on healthcare systems around the world. Some regions, especially in the United States, have a shortage of care staff and beds, which is making it difficult or impossible to meet overall demands of hospitals.

The overall health impacts of COVID-19 will not be known for years to come.

Tips for keeping your family safe

Experts say that the best course of action is prevention. Every family has different considerations that they must navigate. Here’s how the team at Solv is thinking about this challenging topic.

Does the COVID vaccine offer protection against Delta?

Studies show that getting the vaccine will help fight off the Delta variant. Vaccines won’t necessarily prevent illness but will protect against serious illnesses and hospitalizations. If you’re vaccinated and get COVID-19, the disease is likely to be less serious than it would have been without the vaccine.

There are currently 3 vaccines approved for use in the United States: Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer-BioNTech. One study of Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca mRNA vaccines in the U.K., published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found an 88% efficacy against Delta after two doses and 30.7% efficacy after one dose. Another study published in Nature found that one dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca showed little neutralizing activity against Delta, while people who received two doses of either vaccine generated a 3-5-times less potent neutralizing response against Delta than a prior COVID-19 mutation, Alpha. Vaccine manufacturers are currently developing vaccine boosters to target Delta.

Getting the vaccine is one of the best ways to protect the people around you from COVID-19, especially individuals who may be immunocompromised. According to research from the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal, fully vaccinated people who get breakthrough COVID-19 infections are 50% less likely to experience “long COVID” relative to unvaccinated people.

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Are COVID vaccines safe?

Many people are choosing to stay unvaccinated because they are worried about these new drugs being safe. While these concerns are valid, it is important to keep in mind that the underlying mRNA technology was more than 30 years in the making.

All three vaccines authorized or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson) have been tested and found to be both safe and effective in preventing severe COVID-19. The Pfizer vaccine was recently officially approved for use by the FDA. Vaccine developers did not skip testing steps; rather, they completed steps in a way that was overlapping to collect data faster.

In contrast, most hospitalizations and deaths are taking place among the unvaccinated. Delta cases among kids are also on the rise.

What does the Delta variant mean for school, work, travel, etc.?

A lot of people, parents especially, are having trouble keeping up with uncertain and changing policies in their communities. Local recommendations may be different from CDC guidelines, so it’s important to research your specific situation.

Here are some recommendations that may be helpful:

  • Staying on top of communication with school and community program administrators
  • Paying attention to updates from local governments at the state, county, and city levels
  • Requesting updates from your employer’s human resource department
  • Researching policies at destinations at the local and county level
  • Following guidelines on public transportation systems (i.e., airlines), as well as destinations where you may be staying (i.e., hotels)

If answers aren’t readily available or if you don’t feel comfortable with a policy, reach out to have a conversation with your medical services provider. When in doubt, ask. It does not hurt to pick up the phone — or send an email — to have a friendly conversation.

What are the symptoms of the Delta variant?

Delta variant symptoms are similar to the original strain. The major difference is that people are getting sicker quicker and at a higher level of intensity due to the virus growing more rapidly.

Vaccinated people are more likely to be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms following an infection. Symptoms are similar to having a cold (fever, headache, cough), in addition to the loss of smell.

A comprehensive list of symptoms are on the CDC website. The CDC is continuing to update this list as public health experts learn more about the disease as the pandemic progresses.

What should you do if you think you’re sick?

If you or someone you love is showing COVID-19 symptoms, don’t take any chances. Even if your symptoms are mild, the right first step is to stay home and self-isolate. If symptoms intensify to the point of physical distress, you’ll need to get to a hospital emergency room as soon as possible. This resource can help you identify symptoms of a potentially life threatening emergency.

If you are unsure what to do, reach out to your primary care provider or schedule a telemedicine visit with your local urgent care center.

What’s the truth about masks?

You may be hearing conflicting information about whether masks are effective.

This is a topic that researchers are continually studying, and there’s a lot of variation when it comes to different types of masks. That’s why you may not have a clear line of sight into the “right” answers. For instance, a recent study from engineers at the University of Toronto found that high-efficiency masks are up to six times better at filtering aerosols compared to cloth and surgical masks.

You can think of masks as physical barriers against the virus. Imagine that you’re walking into a room where there’s construction and visible debris in the air. The mask reduces your chances of inhaling these particles. With COVID-19, the aerosolized particles are smaller, meaning that they can slip through parts of your mask. But the mask will still provide some protection, which reduces the likelihood of exposure to the disease.

If you’re interested in learning more about masks, take a look at this article from Mayo Clinic.

Last but not least: COVID-19 is a public health emergency

Everyone is navigating the reality of the pandemic in real time and trying to learn the facts as quickly as possible. The situation is a public health emergency, so chaos and confusion are real possibilities. Do not take chances with yours or your family’s health.

If you’re unsure of what steps to take and seeking information, a telemedicine consult with a medical professional can help. Local medical teams are the first to learn about guidelines for your particular community. Your health insurance company may also cover particular telemedicine providers.

You may be hearing news about urgent cares and hospitals being overwhelmed, with limited free space. If you’re having trouble finding local options for healthcare, Solv can help.

19 Sources

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.