Shomporko Online News Desk: With a new wave of COVID-19 infections caused by the Delta variation sweeping the globe, disease experts are trying to figure out if the latest strain of the coronavirus is making people sicker than before — particularly the unvaccinated.
According to an internal assessment made public on Friday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that Delta, which was initially found in India and is now prevalent worldwide, is “likely more severe” than past generations of the virus.
The agency cited research in Canada, Singapore, and Scotland showing that people infected with the Delta variant were more likely to be hospitalized than patients earlier in the pandemic.
In interviews with Reuters, disease experts said the three papers suggest a greater risk from the variant, but the study populations are limited and the findings have not yet been reviewed by outside experts. Doctors treating patients infected with Delta described a more rapid onset of COVID-19 symptoms and in many regions an overall increase in serious cases.
But the experts said more work is needed to compare outcomes among larger numbers of individuals in epidemiologic studies to sort out whether one variant causes more severe disease than another.
“It’s difficult to pin down the increase in severity and population bias,” said Lawrence Young, a virologist at the UK’s Warwick Medical School.
In addition, it is likely that the extraordinary rate of Delta transmission is also contributing to a greater number of severe cases arriving at hospitals, the experts said.
Delta is as contagious as chickenpox and far more contagious than the common cold or flu, according to the CDC report.
Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in San Diego, said the clearest indication that the variant may cause more severe disease comes from the Scotland study, which found that Delta roughly doubled the risk of hospitalization compared to an earlier version.
The majority of hospitalizations and deaths from coronavirus in the United States are occurring in people who have not been vaccinated. But there is evidence that the shots are less effective in people with compromised immune systems, including the elderly.
If a vaccinated, otherwise healthy person contracts COVID-19, the chances are that they will only have asymptomatic or moderate disease, according to Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic.
“However, they can pass it on to family members and those who may be less fortunate,” Poland explained. “We must be vaccinated and masked, or we will face another spike for the fourth time, with even worse mutations emerging.”