All you need to know about the Delta Plus COVID variant

Delta plus is a mutation of the Delta variant that was first detected in India.

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On Tuesday, the Union Health Ministry flagged the Delta Plus COVID-19 variant as a variant of concern. While there is no sufficient data to prove how much impact the Delta Plus could cause, looking at the havoc in the second wave, experts have cautioned people not to take the new variant lightly.

Delta plus is a mutation of the Delta variant that was first detected in India. This mutation was first mentioned in England, and is first said to have been detected in India in April itself. As of Tuesday, 41 patients were identified in India with the Delta Plus mutation, out of which 21 were in the state of Maharashtra. Worldover, the number of cases with this variant has crossed 200.

As per a UK study on 63 patients with the Delta Plus variant, the death rate of the disease caused by this mutation was found to be low. Also, this was found more in young adults than the older patients. “As of now, we have not discovered severe symptoms COVID symptoms caused by this variant in the patients found here. In Maharashtra, one patient in Palghar district had severe loose motions. However, no one else’s symptoms were as severe,” said Avinash Bhondwe, Maharashtra President of the Indian Medical Association (IMA).


Causes of concern

Research conducted on the Delta Plus variant in India has found the virus to be escaping the monoclonal antibodies. “This could mean that the variant might not respond to the COVID vaccines. Even people with antibodies, who have recently had the disease, might get infected with this variant,” Bhondwe said.

The new variant has come features of the original SARS-CoV2 virus as well as the Delta variant. Plus, it also has some additional features of its own. Thus, if more people get infected by this variant, Bhondwe added, the third wave could be bigger than the second.

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope has stated that the new variant could be more virulent than the others and its severity could also be higher. At present, 100 samples each from 36 districts of Maharashtra have been taken and sent for genome sequencing. Tope also said that a separate hospital ward is formed for patients with Delta Plus variant.

The Central Government has presently sent warnings to the states of Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh where the variant has been found. One of the cases found in Kerala is that of a four-year-old.


New variant and the third wave

Dr Anurag Agarwal, Director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), recently said that although any Delta variant is a cause of concern, there is no evidence at this point to suggest that Delta Plus has anything to do with the third wave. However, he also advised people against lowering their guard. 

As far as the third wave of the Coronavirus pandemic in India is concerned, scientist Dr Samiron Phukan says, “Historically, the third wave of a pandemic has not been seen to be as severe as the earlier ones. Even in the cases of the plague or the Spanish Flu, the third wave was not known to be as damaging as the second. However, everything has been unpredictable about this virus and its mutations, so we can never tell.”

While the death rate in the Delta Plus variant has been observed to be low in the UK study, Bhondwe also added that the rate of infection might not be as low. “If more people are infected with this variant, mixed with the weaker immunities and comorbidities, the death count could still rise. Moreover, the only available study has been done in the Uk. In India, there is a tendency that people don’t see the doctor immediately. So by the time they see doctors, there are chances of more complications,” he said.

He also pointed out that in the second wave, lack of beds at hospitals, shortages of Oxygen and essential medicines had also added to the increased number of deaths across the country. Considering that we are still recovering from the second wave, and the third wave could hit in a matter of months, these problems could get duplicated.


What should we do next?

“Right now, we need to wait and watch to see whether the new variant is dangerous or not. However, we are still in the midst of a pandemic and we cannot take any chances. So following all the necessary protocols strictly is the best way to go. We need to wear masks all the time, prevent crowds and sensitise more people. As far as scientific data is concerned, we could get a clearer picture in the next 15 to 20 days,” Phukan said.

While the virus was first detected in April, not enough study has been conducted on it yet. “Between May 5 to June 4, Maharashtra has identified 21 cases of Delta Plus variant. However, during the same time period, the state also added around 12 lakh new COVID cases to its tally. Thus, 21 seems to be a very small number in comparison. This happened at the beginning of the second wave as well, when we failed to identify the impact of the Delta variant. We definitely need more genome sequencing,” Bhondwe said.