Saturday, July 17, 2021

Delta dawns

The news media have been filled with stories about the delta variant of the coronavirus, some factual, some scary. What do you need to know?

First, it is a fact of life that many viruses constantly mutate. That is why you get a flu vaccine every fall: not because your immunity from last year has faded, but because the expected influenza virus will be different than the one that circulated last season. Some of the changes in the virus’ genes make them more dangerous to humans, some less. Some mutations make them less easily transmitted, some more. If a variant is more infectious and/or more easily transmitted from one person to another, it eventually becomes the dominant strain.

This appears to be happening in the U.S. with the delta variant. Luckily it does not seem to be more lethal than earlier strains, but it is more easily spread, and is rapidly becoming the most common form of the virus. Along with the appearance of the delta variant, we are seeing a recrudescence of COVID-19 infections. The lifting of restrictions and decreased mask use is almost certainly also playing a role.

I track the virus in Massachusetts and a month ago our average of new cases was down to 57 a day, and the percentage of Covid tests that were positive had fallen to 0.3%. This week, we are seeing 250 new cases daily and 1% of tests are coming back positive.

This is true across the country. The head of the CDC noted on July 16 that the number of new cases had risen 70% from the prior week. Along with rising cases, hospital admissions had gone up 36% and deaths 26%.

The natural immunity acquired after a mild case of COVID-19 does not seem nearly as effective against the delta variant as it is against to original virus strain. The good new is that the available vaccines do seem very effective, and if you are fully vaccinated, you are extremely unlikely to get seriously ill or die.

Virtually all the recent hospitalizations and deaths have been in unvaccinated people.

While being unvaccinated is clearly dangerous to those individuals, it is also dangerous to others. People who get infected are the source of new variants, and the unvaccinated serve as incubators to produce potentially more lethal variants. Lambda anyone? This new variant now rampant in South America is less susceptible to current vaccines.

If you have not been, PLEASE get vaccinated, for your sake and for ours.

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