UAE: What you need to know about the Delta Plus Covid-19 variant
Experts say following Covid-appropriate behaviour and vaccination is the best way to stave off the infection.
The Delta Plus variant could be a potential candidate to cause a new Covid wave, says Dr Ayaz Ahmed an internal medicine specialist at Aster Cedars Hospital.
"We should not let our guard down and continue to follow guidelines and precautions advised by the health authorities in the UAE," Dr Ahmed added.
Delta Plus is a new variant or mutation of the Covid-19 virus. "It is a sub-lineage of Delta variant first detected in India and has acquired spike protein mutation called K417N."
There are at least two separate groups of the variant, and these are known as AY.1 and AY.2. The first of these, AY.1, appears to be the most globally widespread.
The delta variant provoked a sudden surge in India before spreading outside its borders. Its mutation, Delta Plus, is now worrying global experts and the news is dominating headlines across the world.
However, although it has not been detected in the UAE yet, it should not make residents and citizens in the country complacent.
What leads to mutation in viruses?
"All viruses evolve over time. When virus replicates or make copies of itself, it changes a bit, and these changes are called mutations. Consequently, viruses with new mutations are called variants," explains Dr Priya Bharat Mahale, an internal medicine specialist at Prime Medical Center, Jumeirah branch.
"The World Health Organization recognised the B.1.617.2 strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as the 'Delta' variant, but now, this Delta variant has further mutated itself to form the 'Delta Plus' or the 'AY.1' variant."
What makes Delta Plus a 'variant of concern'?
The three basic traits of the Delta Plus variant as stated by the Health Department are:
1. The Delta Plus variant is highly communicable and will transmit easily.
2. It sticks firmly to the receptors of the cells of the lungs.
3. It resists the monoclonal antibody treatment process.
"At the moment, this variant does not seem to be common, currently accounting for only a small fraction of the delta sequences. But Delta and other circulating variants of concern remain a higher public health risk as they have demonstrated increases in transmission," says Dr Mahale.
These factors are raising concerns that the K417N mutation could dent vaccine protection, or immunity gained from previous infection with an older form of the virus.
"There is an evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g. increased hospitalisation or deaths), significant reduction in neutralisation by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures," explains Dr Safdar Zabeth, a general practitioner at Medcare Medical Centre, Discovery Gardens.
What are the symptoms?
The new variant is still being studied but doctors suggest paying attention to any changes experienced in the body.
"Preliminary studies seem to suggest that apart from usual fever, cough, tiredness, aches and pains, shortness of breath, Delta Plus variant patients also exhibit stomachache, loss of appetite, vomiting, and hearing loss," says Dr Ahmed.
Who is more vulnerable?
As with Delta strain, the children and the elderly will be more vulnerable to Delta Plus strain.
"Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness, and should continue to take precautions," says Dr Zabeth.
What can we do to protect ourselves?
Stopping the spread at the source remains key.
"Current measures to reduce transmission - including frequent hand washing, wearing a mask, physical distancing, good ventilation and avoiding crowded places or closed settings - continue to work against new variants by reducing the amount of viral transmission and therefore also reducing opportunities for the virus to mutate," says Dr Mahale.
Dr Sampat Bhavin Krushnaraj, a specialist pulmonologist at Zulekha Hospital in Sharjah, says "At present following Covid-appropriate behaviour and vaccination is the best strategy to fight this infection."
"Moreover, the Indian Council of Medical Research is studying the efficacy of vaccines on the Delta plus variant and results may be available soon."
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