DELTA PLUS VARIANT: FACTS THAT WE MUST KNOW
Dr Anup R Warrier , Senior Consultant – Infection Control , Aster Hospitals – India
Last month, the Indian government detected a new mutation in the Delta coronavirus variant and classified it to be a ‘variant of concern’. The new variant, known as “Delta plus”, AY.1 or B.1.617.2.1, has an extra mutation in the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes Covid-19. This variant has already been identified in over 111 countries. Mutations are the rule rather than the exception in the biological world. It's no wonder that the latest pathogen of interest to the globe - SARS CoV-2 - is also actively engaged in this process. It is intriguing to note that compared to our old foe - Influenza - the SARS CoV-2 virus mutates at a rate 4 times SLOWER! Yet, we have provided the right ecosystem for this virus to develop multiple mutants/variants that have clinical implications on us.
Variant of concern
Over the last year, starting from the "original" Wuhan strain, we have come to the Delta -Plus strain. We should all remember that while a multitude of variants has evolved in different parts of this world over this time, only very few of these variants show a significant change in the virus behavior. It affects either transmission capability, disease manifestations, or ability to escape the treatment/preventive options like Monoclonal Antibodies and Vaccines. These mutants are called "Variants of Concern". Thus, we have a variant of concern called " Delta Variant" (B.1.617.2) which acquired an additional mutation called K417N, which was initially seen with the "South African strain/Beta Variant" - becoming the Delta-Plus strain.
This was concerning as this Beta Variant was associated with the "immune escape" - meaning the ability of vaccines and monoclonal antibodies to neutralize this strain is diminished. However, this is yet to be proven in the case of Delta Plus! We do not yet know if this strain is associated with higher transmissibility, more serious disease manifestations, or the "immune escape" abilities. What we know for sure is that non-pharmacological interventions (social distancing, universal masking, and hand hygiene) work effectively in prevention irrespective of the variants. And when the transmission is reduced, the opportunities for developing mutations decrease, thus help us retain the efficacy of the present pharmacological interventions - vaccines, drugs, and monoclonal antibodies.
What we can continue to do to safeguard against Delta Plus?
- Maintain social distancing
- Vaccination should be prioritized at all costs
- Wear 'double mask' to increase protection when you're outdoor and in crowded places
- Stay Home, Stay Safe mantra to be followed. Avoid going outside or step out, only if necessary
- Keep your children indoors and ask them not to touch contaminated surfaces
- Apart from that, wash your hands regularly or sanitize them