COVID-19 cases in the United States are trending back up and White House officials continue to raise concerns about the spread of the Delta variant specifically.
However, it is important to know that the delta variant is somewhat different from what we have since so far in this pandemic.
What is the delta variant of COVID-19?
The delta variant is a mutated version of the novel coronavirus that spreads more easily than other strains. It was first detected earlier this year in India but now has been identified in countries around the world. It got its name from the World Health Organization, which names notable variants after letters of the Greek alphabet.
Viruses constantly mutate, and most changes aren't concerning. But there is a worry that some variants might evolve enough to be more contagious, cause more severe illness or evade the protection that vaccines provide. Experts believe the delta variant spreads more easily because of mutations that make it better at latching onto cells in our bodies. On its website, the CDC notes "increased transmissibility" with the delta variant and the potential for it to make certain monoclonal antibody treatments less effective.
It's not clear yet whether the variant makes people sicker since more data needs to be collected, Dr. Jacob John, who studies viruses at Christian Medical College at Vellore in southern India, told the Associated Press. Regardless, many health experts have warned of the variant’s potential to set back progress made in the pandemic. The World Health Organization said the delta variant is "the fastest and fittest" of the known coronavirus strains and warned it will "pick off" those most vulnerable "more efficiently" than previous strains.
What are the symptoms of the delta variant versus other strains?
For much of the pandemic, health officials have warned that fever, cough, and shortness of breath are common symptoms of COVID-19. Loss of taste and smell has also been reported amongst many.
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However, with the delta variant, there are other symptoms to watch for. WebMD reports that you may experience a persistent cough, headache, fever, and sore throat. In fact, with this variant, they said that cough and loss of smell seem to occur less. Headache, sore throat, runny nose, and fever are much more common. However, it is still early in the spread of the delta variant and there is more to learn.
Do vaccines work against the Delta variant?
Studies have shown that the available vaccines work against variants, including the delta variant. The findings are why experts say it's important to be fully vaccinated. And it's why they say making vaccines accessible globally is so critical. To date, 48.6 percent of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated, including nearly 60 percent of American adults, CDC data shows.
The CDC on Tuesday said that the delta variant of the coronavirus now accounts for an estimated 83 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United States as it continues to surge largely among unvaccinated populations. This is a dramatic increase from the week of July 3, when the highly transmissible variant accounted for about 50 percent of genetically sequenced coronavirus cases.
"In some parts of the country, the percentage is even higher — particularly in areas of low vaccination rates," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC Director, said during a U.S. Senate hearing on Tuesday. "The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have."
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The Associated Press and FOX News contributed to this report.