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.