Is the delta the last particularly powerful strain of coronavirus?

Each week, a group of epidemiologists in the northeastern United States join the Zoom Conference to actively discuss the new varieties of COVID-19 that are emerging around the world.

“It’s like a weather report from meteorologists,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University. – In the past, there have been reports of Gamma elsewhere, Alpha elsewhere. Now it’s just a delta. “

The delta strain was first discovered in December last year in India. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 99.5 percent of all newly reported cases of coronavirus fall into this variant.

What will happen in the future?

Yes, new varieties are emerging – let’s say delta plus, which is even more contagious. True, the new variants are almost indistinguishable from the original delta variety, so Hanage even calls them “Delta Grandchildren.”

“It simply came to our notice then Delta pluses. I said in one radio interview that delta plus is a code term used whenever people get excited about something. “The new varieties are not much more contagious,” said Hanage.

Imago / Scanpix nuotr./COVID-19 atmaina Delta

True, the work continues. Databases are constantly being analyzed by scientists because they want to try to predict what will happen to the world later: can a delta strain really be considered the last hit of a pandemic, or will this one be more severe in the future?

One possibility is that the Sars-CoV-2 virus will now mutate much more slowly and consistently than before. Maybe the virus will get rid of the so-called vaccine shield, but only after many years – and science will be able to prepare for such a turn of events in time.

Scholars always emphasize that their predictions are primarily speculation based on education, but some of them believe that such a process is indeed the most likely.

“I think we’ll see in the future evolution what we call antigen drift – when the virus is slowly changing to escape the immune system,” said Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Institute of Genetics in London.

Maybe the virus will get rid of the so-called vaccine shield, but only after many years – and science will be able to prepare for such a turn of events in time.

“If we talk about the flu and other coronaviruses we know well, it takes about 10 years for the virus to accumulate enough to be unrecognized by antibodies in the blood,” he said.

Of course, the alternative is the sudden emergence of a completely new strain that would be completely resistant to all vaccines now being developed. Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, calls such varieties “super-variants.” the likelihood that they will occur.

“It simply came to our notice then. A delta pandemic is currently taking place. The new delta plus option is pretty fluid compared to what I’m talking about. It is inevitable that in the next two years there will be a variety that will be able to compete with the delta and even surpass it, ”said R. Gupta.

The variety is spread among the vaccinated

As early as the second half of 2020, epidemiologists saw signs of a worrying phenomenon called viral recombination, with different versions of Sars-CoV-2 exchanging mutations and giving birth to a whole new strain.

According to R.Gupta, it is good that such recombinations are not very common. On the other hand, it is precisely because of them that the threat of a new virus super-variant remains, especially in regions where few people have been vaccinated and the virus can roam freely.

“Now that the delta variety is dominating, the risk is lower. However, there are many areas on the planet where we do not conduct research and are unaware of the situation. Therefore, the rise of a super-variant is a very real possibility, ”the expert emphasized.

Scanpix / AP Photo / People being vaccinated in India

Scanpix / AP Photo / People being vaccinated in India

There is also the possibility that we will get a whole series of major mutations, says Gideon Schreiber, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

In recent weeks, there have been fears that the change in Sars-CoV-2 is being driven by new antiviral drugs in pill form.

“Although the latter strains are associated with delta, the virus has a lot of potential to develop in the future. “We can get more complex mutations in different parts of the virus, which would cause more problems,” Schreiber said.

In recent weeks, there have been fears that the change in Sars-CoV-2 is being driven by new antiviral drugs in pill form.

Suppose that molnupiravir, developed by Merck, works by flooding the viral genome with mutations, and some virologists fear that these mutations may persist and lead to new strains. However, the benefits of the drugs are obvious, so there seems to be no intention to give them up.

By the way, R. The biggest problem is that the COVID-19 infection rates in the United Kingdom and other countries are still too high. Poor statistics are due to the ability of the delta strain to spread among vaccinated individuals.

Second generation vaccines are being developed

Experts are currently trying to make the most accurate prediction of what the new coronavirus supervariant might look like. At least so far, changes in the virus have only increased its infectivity.

According to W. Hanage, one of the reasons for the huge impact of the delta strain is that such a virus “grows” in cells especially fast, even before the engine of the immune system starts.

Scanpix / SIPA Photo / Vaccination Center in France

Scanpix / SIPA Photo / Vaccination Center in France

This means that a delta strain of infected people have as many as 1.2 thousand in their noses. times more virus particles than those infected with the original Wuhan virus. In addition, symptoms in the delta variety appear two to three days earlier.

This is a consequence of natural selection. Different copies of the virus appear all the time, but those that can infect new targets rather than the vaccinated ones remain and start to dominate. True, the situation may change and maybe it already does.

R.Gupta: Let’s see where the varieties have spread so far – from countries where the epidemic has developed very fast, no attempt has been made to control the process. It is not for nothing that we have heard nothing about the Singapore or South Korean variety.

“What strains of the virus survive and start to dominate depends on the stage of the pandemic. So far, it has been more important for the virus to spread among vulnerable people. But they are declining, “Hanage said.

This may sound awful, but there is good news. Because COVID-19 vaccines have been developed in response to the possible evolution of the virus, epidemiologists are confident that they will not become worthless if a new viral supervariant emerges – huge outbreaks are unlikely.

In addition, second-generation vaccines are being developed that will reach the market soon and be able to provide protection against many possible strains.

True, epidemiologists stress that relying on vaccines alone is not enough. According to R. Gupta, societies really need to learn to live its coronavirus, but some restrictions on public life are also needed to keep the virus from mutating.

“There are so many infections so far that you don’t have to walk in the crowd. Masks should be worn inside buildings, no matter how uncomfortable.

Let’s see where the varieties have spread so far: from countries where the epidemic has developed very rapidly, no attempt has been made to control the process. I am talking about India, Brazil, the United Kingdom. It is not for nothing that we have heard nothing about the Singapore or South Korean variety, “R. Gupta noted.


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