Spreads over 200 % faster than original variant, grows more rapidly in the respiratory tract
By Sola Ogundipe & Chioma Obinna
As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was ending in Nigeria and some other African countries, little did anyone know that a more infectious and deadly strain of the virus was yet to emerge.
In view of the fact that the impact of the first wave and the second wave was not too severe in African countries compared to the severity in the developed countries, where millions of people lost their lives to the pandemic, there was a general sense of complacency among the African citizens.
Today, for instance, many Nigerians no longer keep to the safety and prevention protocols as recommended by the government.
Wearing face masks has become history, hand washing with soap and use of hand sanitiser as well as social distancing have been relegated. Nigerians have gone back to the old ways.
However, the emergence of the most virulent variant of COVID-19 has caught several Nigerians napping despite the warnings from the World Health Organisation, WHO on the imminent spread of the third wave.
Currently, Nigeria has recorded two cases of the Delta variant also known as B.1.617.2, one in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, and another in Oyo state.
According to experts, the Delta variant, first isolated in India, is one of the more infectious or deadly variants of COVID-19 on the WHO’s variants of concern list.
In addition to Delta, the others are Alpha (the variant that first appeared in the United Kingdom), Beta (the South African variant), and Gamma (the Brazilian variant).
Findings show that the surge in the Delta variant in Africa may cause an increased number of cases and deaths in the coming months in the absence of preventive measures and access to COVID vaccines.
However, experts are worried that the emergence of the Delta variant in Nigeria may trigger the third wave of the pandemic.
While Nigerians and Africans are generally unfocused on the Delta variant, it is in fact driving the wave of COVID-19 infection around the world.
The WHO has expressly warned that the Delta variant has the potential to rapidly become the dominant strain across the world. Since it was designated as a variant of concern by the WHO, on May 11, making it the fourth such variant.
The Delta variant rapidly spread around the world and has been identified in around 110 countries to date. It’s now the dominant strain in many countries and on the rise.
Scientists have identified more than 20 mutations in the Delta variant, but two that may be crucial in helping it transmit more effectively than earlier strains earned it the tag of “double mutant”.
The first is the L452R mutation, which, also found in the Epsilon variant, designated by the WHO as a variant of interest. This mutation increases the spike protein’s ability to bind to human cells, thereby increasing its infectiousness.
Preliminary studies also suggest this mutation may aid the virus in evading the neutralising antibodies produced by both vaccines and previous infection.
Available data suggest that Delta variant is 35 to 60 percent better at spreading than the Alpha variant, which a publication in the journal Science pegged at 43 to 90 percent more infectious than the original virus.
According to Yale Medicine: “In an environment where no one is vaccinated or wearing masks, it’s estimated that the average person infected with the original viral strain would infect 2.5 people, whereas a person infected with the Delta variant would spread it to 3.5 or 4 people.”
Scientists agree that this is the most contagious variant known to date. They say it spreads over 200 percent faster than the original version of the virus. Researchers at the Guangdong Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, report that the Delta variant grows more rapidly inside people’s respiratory tracts and too much higher levels.
According to the study, on average, people infected with the Delta variant had about 1,000 times more copies of the virus in their respiratory tracts than those infected with the original strain of the COVID-19 virus.
In addition, after someone catches the Delta variant, the person likely becomes infectious sooner. The study noted that, on average, it took about four days for the Delta variant to reach detectable levels inside a person, compared with six days for the original coronavirus variant. If considering the total number of deaths, Delta may be more life-threatening than other variants because more people might become infected with it.
Research suggests people infected by the Delta variant have a greater risk of being hospitalised compared to people infected by other variants.
So far, available vaccines have proved effective, even against the Delta variant, but it doesn’t mean people can’t get infected at all, but hospitalisations and deaths are significantly less likely to happen than if persons are not vaccinated.