Managing risk

The Delta variant – what you need to know

The Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is like nothing we’ve faced before. It has health experts worried, and here’s why.

One of the trickier aspects of the COVID-19 virus is that, like the flu, it keeps evolving and mutating into slightly different forms – variants – which have different characteristics. In the case of the Delta variant (‘Delta’), the main trouble is that it’s far more contagious than the COVID-19 variants circulating in 2020. And unfortunately, Delta may also be more dangerous to young people.

Spreading like wildfire

Delta replicates more quickly and generates more virus particles than other variants. With Delta, a single breath from an infected person contains 1,000 times the ‘viral load’ of the strains that were circulating last year, and together with a shorter incubation period, this makes it much, easier to be infected if you breathe in the contaminated air that someone with the disease has breathed out.

It's also reported to be more likely to evade antibodies – our immune system’s internal fight-back system.

While Delta is only one of many hundreds of variants that have developed since the pandemic began, its increased transmissibility gives it a competitive advantage over other variants, which is why it’s currently driving the spread of disease around the world.

The World Health Organization has dubbed it a ‘variant of concern’. First detected early this year, Delta has now spread through 135 countries where it’s become the predominant variant, and in many places, it’s pushing hospitals to the brink.

Delta may cause more severe illness

There’s some evidence that in unvaccinated people, Delta might cause more severe illness1 than previous variants. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that studies from multiple countries have indicated that patients infected with Delta were more likely to be hospitalised than patients infected with the Alpha variant (a different mutation also circulating) or with the original virus strains from the early days of the pandemic.

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Affecting younger people

There are worrying signs that younger people2 seem to be at more risk of serious illness and hospitalisation if they’re infected with Delta, but infectious disease experts are unsure if this is the case.

It could just be that Delta is infecting all unvaccinated age groups at a faster rate than previous variants of COVID-19. It may also be that younger people are generally more socially mobile and less likely to have been immunised.

What’s certain is that Delta is affecting people of all ages with very serious disease.

Protecting yourself

There are many things you can do to protect yourself and others against the health risks posed by Delta. For example, wearing a mask and making sure it covers your nose and your mouth without gaps on either side of your nose or below your cheekbones. By avoiding crowded spaces, keeping social distance from others, and maintaining good ventilation indoors, you will further reduce the possibility of exposure to COVID-19.

And crucially, vaccination is critical.


The risk of catching COVID-19, passing it on or developing mild illness is very greatly reduced by vaccination, though it’s not totally eliminated. The COVID-19 vaccines available in Australia have been proven to be very effective at preventing disease, hospitalisation and death from COVID-193.

Fully vaccinated people who experience a recurrence of infection with Delta (‘breakthrough cases’) appear to be infectious for a shorter period than those who are unvaccinated.

A significant amount of the global population remains unvaccinated or have not yet received the full vaccination course. As a result, they remain susceptible to infection, severe disease and death.


This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied upon as health advice. Always seek the advice and guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

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