The Lambda Coronavirus Variant Has Arrived In Australia Here’s What We Know So Far

We’ve seen the Alpha, Kappa and Delta variants cross our borders, but it turns out another strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 has reached our shores.

The variant, named Lambda by the World Health Organization (WHO) last month, was detected in an overseas traveller who was in hotel quarantine in New South Wales in April, according to national genomics database AusTrakka.

Some reports suggest the new variant could be fast spreading and difficult to tackle with vaccines. So what sets this variant apart from others and should we be concerned?

Here’s what we know so far.

Where did it originate?

Previously known as C.37, Lambda was first detected in Peru in December 2020. Since then, it’s spread to 29 countries, seven of which are in South America.

In April and May this year, Lambda accounted for over 80 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Peru, with a high proportion of cases also in Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador.

On 14 June, Lambda was listed as a ‘variant of interest’ by the World Health Organization due to its vast spread in South America.

Variants of interest are listed as such because they have the potential to be more infectious and severe, but haven’t yet had the devastating impact of those listed as variants of concern.

On 23 June, Public Health England classified it as a ‘variant under investigation’, after six cases were detected in the UK to date, which were all linked to overseas travel.

What makes it different from other variants?

There are now 11 official SARS-CoV-2 variants listed by the WHO.

All SARS-CoV-2 variants are distinguished from one another by mutations in their spike proteins — the components of the virus that allow it to invade human cells.

For instance, the Delta variant first detected in India has two key spike protein mutations — T478K and L452R  — that allow it to infect cells more easily and evade the body’s immune response.

According to research published last week but yet to be peer reviewed,  Lambda has seven unique spike protein mutations.

A Chilean team of scientists analysed blood samples from health workers in Santiago who had received two doses of the CoronaVac vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech in China.

They found  the Lambda variant has a mutation called L452Q, which is similar to the L452R mutation seen in the Delta and Epsilon variants.

As the L452R mutation is thought to make Delta and Epsilon more infectious and resilient against vaccination, the team concluded that Lambda’s L452Q mutation might also help it spread far and wide.

While it’s possible that Lambda is indeed more infectious than other variants, it’s too early to know for sure, said Kirsty Short, a virologist at the University of Queensland.

“It’s very preliminary,” said Dr Short, who was not involved in the study.

“It’s a good starting point, but I certainly wouldn’t infer anything from that into the clinic.”

Are vaccines still effective against the Lambda variant?

The study also found signs that Lambda’s unique spike mutations could help it slip past the body’s immune response.

The results of the study suggested that the CoronaVac vaccine produces fewer neutralising antibodies — proteins that defend cells against infections — in response to the Lambda variant.

But according to Paul Griffin, who specialises in infectious diseases and vaccines at the University of Queensland, it’s important to remember that these antibodies are just one aspect of immunity.

“We know that [neutralizing antibodies] only tell a part of the story,” said Dr Griffin, who was not involved in the study.

“If that further immunity remains intact, then even with a reduction in neutralizing antibodies, sometimes that protection can still be enough.”

It’s also worth remembering that different vaccines work in different ways to respond to the virus and its variants.

“You can’t really extrapolate from one vaccine,” Dr Short said.

CoronaVac uses inactive versions of SARS-CoV-2 to kick the immune system into gear.

On the other hand, Pfizer contains a single strand of the genetic code that builds the virus’s spike proteins, while AstraZeneca contains a double-strand.

Dr Griffin said that more traditional inactivated vaccines like CoronaVac have proven to be less effective overall than others.

“As a broad category, the inactivated ones have been a little bit underwhelming, particularly compared to others that have such high rates of efficacy,” said Dr Griffin, who was not involved in the study.

While not much is known about how effective the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are against Lambda, their response to the Delta variant can offer clues.

A recent study from the UK found that two doses of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca are over 90 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation due to the Delta variant.

Should Australia be worried?

While there has only been one case of Lambda recorded in hotel quarantine in Australia so far, it’s worth keeping an eye on the emergence and spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants around the world, Dr Short said.

“There’s a reason why it’s a variant that we’re watching and looking into more, but it’s certainly not at a point of panic or anything like that.”

Dr Griffin added that Lambda would need to out-compete Delta to become a major concern. “That’s certainly not what we’re seeing,” he said.  But as more people get infected, the more chance the virus has to evolve into new variants, Dr Short said.

The best way to tackle this is to focus on getting more people vaccinated, not just in Australia, but globally. “What this should emphasise to everyone is that we need global effort in the vaccination campaign,” Dr Short said.

 By: ABC Health & Wellbeing Gemma Conroy

Source: The Lambda coronavirus variant has arrived in Australia. Here’s what we know so far – ABC News

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The COVID-19 Symptoms Doctors Are Seeing The Most Right Now

More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, experts have unraveled so many mysteries about how to treat the virus and prevent it. But at the same time, SARS-CoV-2 is always changing as new variants emerge. And accordingly, the ways in which the virus affects people seem to be shifting as well.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most common COVID-19 symptoms doctors are seeing right now, and how vaccines and variants fit into this picture.

The most common symptoms — such as cough, fever, and loss of taste and smell — are all still pretty much the same.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the most common symptoms of the virus included a cough (often dry), shortness of breath, a fever of 100 degrees or higher, and the sudden loss of taste and smell.

Those, however, are by no means the only frequent symptoms. People also report everything from headaches to diarrhea, all of which are listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s rundown of common possible symptoms.

For the most part, that list of the most common symptoms hasn’t really changed. “The symptoms are really the same as before. It’s the headache, cough, fatigue, runny nose, fever — those kind of generalized flu-like symptoms,” said Jonathan Leizman, chief medical officer of Premise Health, a health care company headquartered in Tennessee.

The emergency warning signs of COVID-19 have also stayed pretty much the same. Those include issues like trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, and new mental confusion.

With the delta variant, some people’s symptoms might look more like a common cold.

The delta variant (B.1.617.2) is circulating widely around the globe and is now the main strain here in the United States; it’s hitting areas with high numbers of unvaccinated Americans particularly hard.

There is some initial evidence that the symptoms associated with delta might be a bit different than those with the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, though experts caution that it remains too early to say definitively.

“The information we’re getting from the U.K. and Europe and some initial surveys here in the United States is that the delta virus infection seems to be more likely to produce symptoms that are more typical of a common cold,” said William Powderly, co-director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, which has recently seen a big uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. “That’s a sore throat, mild cough and nasal congestion.”

“The symptoms we were seeing earlier on, which were much more like lower respiratory and fever, are less common,” Powderly added. “That isn’t to say they don’t happen. But there does seem to be a shift in the frequency and type of symptoms being reported.”

Experts don’t yet understand why the symptoms might be slightly different. It could be simply that there are now more infections in younger people, Powderly said. At the same time, researchers are exploring how variants classified as “of concern” and “of interest” — including delta but also lambda and others — might be different in terms of their ability to be transmitted or to make people more or less sick.

The newer coronavirus variants could be making people sicker.

While some people infected with the delta variant have symptoms that are in line with a common cold, there is also preliminary evidence suggesting that other people’s symptoms may be “more intensely felt” with delta, Leizman said.

“We have seen that hospitalization rates are seemingly increased in younger populations with the delta variant,” he offered as an example.

But at this point, there’s no scientific consensus on whether the delta variant is likely to make people sicker than the initial strain, simply because it (and other variants) are so new. The best we have at this point are one-off studies, surveys or even just anecdotal information from the field.

“There’s now data coming out of England and Scotland showing that the severity of the disease may be increased, and it may be leading to an increased risk of hospitalization,” said Carlos Malvestutto, an infectious disease specialist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

“People who are not vaccinated are particularly vulnerable because the new variants — and particularly the delta variant — transmits faster and may be causing more severe disease,” Malvestutto added.

Symptoms tend to be mild in those who are fully vaccinated.

While the vast majority of new cases and hospitalizations occur in those who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 (around 99% of new infections in some parts of the country), so-called “breakthrough cases” do occur among those who’ve received both shots of either of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine.

But the symptoms people experience in those instances tend to be relatively mild, according to the data that’s available at this point. About a third of people who got infected after being fully vaccinated were totally asymptomatic, for example.

The CDC now only tracks breakthrough cases that result in hospitalization or death, so there’s just not really robust data looking at how many people experience milder symptoms post-vaccine (or no symptoms at all), nor is there clarity about what variant those people may have caught. Still, there have been high-profile breakthrough infections in the news, like the New York Yankees cluster or entertainment reporter Catt Sadler, who recently said she had contracted COVID-19 after vaccination.

Ultimately, however, the goal of vaccination is not only to reduce transmission but to also drastically reduce hospitalizations and deaths — and the vaccines have done just that.

“The vast majority of individuals who are fully vaccinated do not have those severe consequences of disease, which makes us think the symptoms might be more mild in general for individuals who are fully vaccinated,” Leizman said.

Breakthrough cases also remain rare. As of mid-July, the CDC said that more than 157 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated. There have been about 5,000 patients with COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough infections who were hospitalized or who died — though not all of those cases were directly attributed to COVID-19.

Which is why health experts are adamant that getting vaccinated is the best thing people can do to keep themselves and others safe — and to avoid developing any kind of symptoms at all.

“I’m in a state where we’re seeing a significant uptick in hospitalized patients … and they’re all people who have not been vaccinated, which is really hard and devastating, because these are completely preventable,” Powderly said.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.

Source: The COVID-19 Symptoms Doctors Are Seeing The Most Right Now | HuffPost UK Wellness

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References :

The Delta SARS-CoV-2 variant first appeared in India in October 2020. This is the fastest-growing variant and is currently outpacing all other variants. This variant contains the “eek” mutation in the Spike protein, which helps the virus evade certain antibodies.  As a result, the Delta variant has shown significantly increased transmission.

This variant is responsible for the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in India over the past several months. Additionally, this variant has been identified in over 98 countries across the world as of July 2, 2021. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech (88%) and the AstraZeneca/Vaxzevria (67%) vaccine demonstrated protection was retained against severe disease caused by the Delta variant. Data is still limited relating to vaccine efficacy and the delta variant.

  1. Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID)
  2. Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa 
  3. Journal- Increased transmissibility and global spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern as at June 2021
  4. Journal- Effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against hospital admission with the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant
  5. Sheikh A, McMenamin J, Taylor B, Robertson C. SARS-CoV-2 Delta VOC in Scotland: demographics, risk of hospital admission, and vaccine effectiveness. 

 

COVID-19 Did Not Affect Mental Health the Way You Think

You’ve probably heard that the coronavirus pandemic triggered a worldwide mental-health crisis. This narrative took hold almost as quickly as the virus itself. In the spring of 2020, article after article—even an op-ed by one of us—warned of a looming psychological epidemic.

As clinical scientists and research psychologists have pointed out, the coronavirus pandemic has created many conditions that might lead to psychological distress: sudden, widespread disruptions to people’s livelihoods and social connections; millions bereaved; and the most vulnerable subjected to long-lasting hardship. A global collapse in well-being has seemed inevitable.

We joined a mental-health task force, commissioned by The Lancet, in order to quantify the pandemic’s psychological effects. When we reviewed the best available data, we saw that some groups—including people facing financial stress—have experienced substantial, life-changing suffering. However, looking at the global population on the whole, we were surprised not to find the prolonged misery we had expected.

We combed through close to 1,000 studies that examined hundreds of thousands of people from nearly 100 countries. This research measured many variables related to mental health—including anxiety, depression, and deaths by suicide—as well as life satisfaction. We focused on two complementary types of evidence:

Surveys that examined comparable groups of people before and during the pandemic and studies tracking the same individuals over time. Neither type of study is perfect, but when the same conclusions emerged from both sets of evidence, we gained confidence that we were seeing something real.

Early in the pandemic, our team observed in these studies what the media was reporting: Average levels of anxiety and depression—as well as broader psychological distress—climbed dramatically, as did the number of people experiencing clinically significant forms of these conditions.

For example, in both the U.S. and Norway, reports of depression rose three-fold during March and April of 2020 compared with averages collected in previous years. And in a study of more than 50,000 people across the United Kingdom, 27 percent showed clinically significant levels of distress early in the pandemic, compared with 19 percent before the pandemic.

But as spring turned to summer, something remarkable happened: Average levels of depression, anxiety, and distress began to fall. Some data sets even suggested that overall psychological distress returned to near-pre-pandemic levels by early summer 2020. We share what we learned in a paper that is forthcoming in Perspective on Psychological Science.

We kept digging into the data to account for any anomalies. For example, some of the data sets came disproportionately from wealthy countries, so we expanded our geographic lens. We also considered that even if the pandemic didn’t produce intense, long-term distress, it might have undercut people’s overall life satisfaction. So, members from our team examined the largest data set available on that topic, from the Gallup World Poll.

This survey asks people to evaluate their life on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the best possible life and zero being the worst. Representative samples of people from most of the world’s countries answer this question every year, allowing us to compare results from 2020 with preceding years. Looking at the world as a whole, we saw no trace of a decline in life satisfaction: People in 2020 rated their lives at 5.75 on average, identical to the average in previous years.

We also wondered if the surveys weren’t reaching the people who were struggling the most. If you’re barely holding things together, you might not answer calls from a researcher. However, real-time data from official government sources in 21 countries showed no detectable increase in instances of suicide from April to July 2020, relative to previous years; in fact, suicide rates actually declined slightly within some countries, including the U.S. For example, California expected to see 1,429 deaths by suicide during this period, based on data from prior years; instead, 1,280 occurred.

We were surprised by how well many people weathered the pandemic’s psychological challenges. In order to make sense of these patterns, we looked back to a classic psychology finding: People are more resilient than they themselves realize. We imagine that negative life events—losing a job or a romantic partner—will be devastating for months or years. When people actually experience these losses, however, their misery tends to fade far faster than they imagined it would.

The capacity to withstand difficult events also applies to traumas such as living through war or sustaining serious injury. These incidents can produce considerable anguish, and we don’t want to minimize the pain that so many suffer. But study after study demonstrates that a majority of survivors either bounce back quickly or never show a substantial decline in mental health.

Human beings possess what some researchers call a psychological immune system, a host of cognitive abilities that enable us to make the best of even the worst situation. For example, after breaking up with a romantic partner, people may focus on the ex’s annoying habits or relish their newfound free time.

The pandemic has been a test of the global psychological immune system, which appears more robust than we would have guessed. When familiar sources of enjoyment evaporated in the spring of 2020, people got creative. They participated in drive-by birthday parties, mutual-assistance groups, virtual cocktail evenings with old friends, and nightly cheers for health-care workers.

Some people got really good at baking. Many found a way to reweave their social tapestry. Indeed, across multiple large data sets, levels of loneliness showed only a modest increase, with 13.8 percent of adults in the U.S. reporting always or often feeling lonely in April 2020, compared with 11 percent in spring 2018.

But these broad trends and averages shouldn’t erase the real struggles—immense pain, overwhelming loss, financial hardships—that so many people have faced over the past 17 months. For example, that 2.8 percent increase in the number of Americans reporting loneliness last spring represents 7 million people. Like so many aspects of the pandemic, the coronavirus’s mental-health toll was not distributed evenly.

Early on, some segments of the population—including women and parents of young children—exhibited an especially pronounced increase in overall psychological distress. As the pandemic progressed, lasting mental-health challenges disproportionately affected people who were facing financial issues, individuals who got sick with COVID-19, and those who had been struggling with physical and mental-health disorders prior to the pandemic.

The resilience of the population as a whole does not relieve leaders of their responsibility to provide tangible support and access to mental-health services to those people who have endured the most intense distress and who are at the greatest ongoing risk.

But the astonishing resilience that most people have exhibited in the face of the sudden changes brought on by the pandemic holds its own lessons. We learned that people can handle temporary changes to their lifestyle—such as working from home, giving up travel, or even going into isolation—better than some policy makers seemed to assume.

As we look ahead to the world’s next great challenges—including a future pandemic—we need to remember this hard-won lesson: Human beings are not passive victims of change but active stewards of our own well-being. This knowledge should empower us to make the disruptive changes our societies may require, even as we support the individuals and communities that have been hit hardest.

By: Lara Aknin, Jamil Zaki, and Elizabeth Dunn

Lara Aknin is a psychology professor at Simon Fraser University and the chair of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Task Force for The Lancet’s COVID-19 Commission. Jamil Zaki is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory. He is the author of The War For Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Elizabeth Dunn is a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and a co-author of Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending.

Source: COVID-19 Did Not Affect Mental Health the Way You Think – The Atlantic

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Critics:

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the mental health of people around the world. Similar to the past respiratory viral epidemics, such as the SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and the influenza epidemics, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in different population groups, including the healthcare workers, general public, and the patients and quarantined individuals.

The Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee of the United Nations recommends that the core principles of mental health support during an emergency are “do no harm, promote human rights and equality, use participatory approaches, build on existing resources and capacities, adopt multi-layered interventions and work with integrated support systems.”COVID-19 is affecting people’s social connectedness, their trust in people and institutions, their jobs and incomes, as well as imposing a huge toll in terms of anxiety and worry.

COVID-19 also adds to the complexity of substance use disorders (SUDs) as it disproportionately affects people with SUD due to accumulated social, economic, and health inequities. The health consequences of SUDs (for example, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, type 2 diabetes, immunosuppression and central nervous system depression, and psychiatric disorders) and the associated environmental challenges (e.g., housing instability, unemployment, and criminal justice involvement) increase risk for COVID-19.

References

Does Getting The COVID-19 Vaccine Affect Your Life Insurance Policy

You can’t always believe what you read on social media, especially when it comes to medical information amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A May 2021 Instagram post went viral claiming that a user’s family was denied a life insurance benefit because the deceased had gotten the “experimental” COVID-19 vaccine. But the vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have all received emergency use authorizations. The post has been flagged as a false claim, and it shows no supporting evidence.

In fact, life insurers cannot deny a death benefit because the deceased is vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). “The fact is that life insurers do not consider whether or not a policyholder has received a COVID vaccine when deciding whether to pay a claim. Life insurance policy contracts are very clear on how policies work, and what cause, if any, might lead to the denial of a benefit. A vaccine for COVID-19 is not one of them,” Paul Graham, ACLI senior vice president said.

People who are hesitant to get vaccinated because they don’t want to lose insurance benefits can rest assured that the COVID-19 vaccine won’t have an effect on death benefit payouts.

In fact, now is a good time to take a look at your life insurance coverage to make sure your loved ones will be taken care of in the event of your death. You can compare life insurance policies on Credible to make sure you’re getting a fair quote for a comprehensive plan.

“The fact is that life insurers do not consider whether or not a policyholder has received a COVID vaccine when deciding whether to pay a claim. Life insurance policy contracts are very clear on how policies work, and what cause, if any, might lead to the denial of a benefit. A vaccine for COVID-19 is not one of them.”

– Paul Graham, ACLI senior vice president

WANT CHEAP LIFE INSURANCE? CONSIDER THESE STRATEGIES

3 legitimate reasons why insurers can deny a death benefit claim

While life insurers can’t deny a death benefit because of your vaccination status, there are reasons why a death claim can be rightfully denied.

  1. The deceased died within 2 years of taking out the policy. In most states, the insurance company can investigate the policyholder’s medical records to see if there were any misrepresentations on their policy.
  2. The deceased had an Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D) policy. This type of life insurance policy doesn’t cover medical-related deaths or deaths by suicide.
  3. The deceased was not paying premiums. The insurance company may not be obligated to pay out the death benefit if the policyholder was not paying their premiums and the policy was terminated.

It’s important to understand the specifics of your life insurance policy so that your beneficiaries aren’t caught off-guard in the event of your death. Check your policy agreement to learn more. If you’re not satisfied with your level of coverage, you can shop for a new life insurance policy on Credible.

If you die from COVID-19 complications, will your beneficiaries get a death benefit?

Yes, insurance companies will pay out for deaths from coronavirus-related circumstances. However, the insurer may not pay the death benefit if the policy premiums were in nonpayment, as mentioned above.

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is an effective way to protect yourself from the adverse health effects stemming from COVID-19, including death.

DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH LIFE INSURANCE COVERAGE?

Will getting a COVID-19 vaccine make you ineligible for life insurance?

We already know that being vaccinated against COVID-19 isn’t a reason for a life insurance company to deny a death benefit. Insurers also cannot prevent you from taking out a policy because you’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a statement released March 15, 2021, the Life Insurance Council of New York confirmed that “receiving a COVID-19 vaccination has absolutely no bearing on a life insurer’s decision to pay a claim or issue new coverage.”

Regardless of your vaccination status, you can shop for life insurance on Credible’s online marketplace.

CONSIDERING BUYING TERM LIFE INSURANCE? 4 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

Source: Does getting the COVID-19 vaccine affect your life insurance policy? | Fox Business

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Critics:

Life insurance (or life assurance, especially in the Commonwealth of Nations) is a contract between an insurance policy holder and an insurer or assurer, where the insurer promises to pay a designated beneficiary a sum of money upon the death of an insured person (often the policy holder). Depending on the contract, other events such as terminal illness or critical illness can also trigger payment. The policy holder typically pays a premium, either regularly or as one lump sum. The benefits may include other expenses, such as funeral expenses.

Life policies are legal contracts and the terms of each contract describe the limitations of the insured events. Often, specific exclusions written into the contract limit the liability of the insurer; common examples include claims relating to suicide, fraud, war, riot, and civil commotion. Difficulties may arise where an event is not clearly defined, for example: the insured knowingly incurred a risk by consenting to an experimental medical procedure or by taking medication resulting in injury or death.

Life-based contracts tend to fall into two major categories:

  • Protection policies: designed to provide a benefit, typically a lump-sum payment, in the event of a specified occurrence. A common form—more common in years past[when?]—of a protection-policy design is term insurance.
  • Investment policies: the main objective of these policies is to facilitate the growth of capital by regular or single premiums. Common forms (in the United States) are whole life, universal life, and variable life policies.

References

The Symptoms of The Delta Variant Appear To Differ From Traditional COVID Symptoms. Here’s What To Look Out For

We’ve been living in a COVID world for more than 18 months now. At the outset of the pandemic, government agencies and health authorities scrambled to inform people on how to identify symptoms of the virus.

But as the virus has evolved, it seems the most common symptoms have changed too.

Emerging data suggest people infected with the Delta variant — the variant behind most of Australia’s current cases and highly prevalent around the world — are experiencing symptoms different to those we commonly associated with COVID earlier in the pandemic.


Read more: What’s the Delta COVID variant found in Melbourne? Is it more infectious and does it spread more in kids? A virologist explains

Clear explanations about the pandemic from a network of research experts

We’re all different

Humans are dynamic. With our differences come different immune systems. This means the same virus can produce different signs and symptoms in different ways.

A sign is something that’s seen, such as a rash. A symptom is something that’s felt, like a sore throat.

The way a virus causes illness is dependent on two key factors:

  • viral factors include things like speed of replication, modes of transmission, and so on. Viral factors change as the virus evolves.
  • host factors are specific to the individual. Age, gender, medications, diet, exercise, health and stress can all affect host factors.

So when we talk about the signs and symptoms of a virus, we’re referring to what is most common. To ascertain this, we have to collect information from individual cases.

It’s important to note this data is not always easy to collect or analyse to ensure there’s no bias. For example, older people may have different symptoms to younger people, and collecting data from patients in a hospital may be different to patients at a GP clinic.

So what are the common signs and symptoms of the Delta variant?

Using a self-reporting system through a mobile app, data from the United Kingdom suggest the most common COVID symptoms may have changed from those we traditionally associated with the virus.

The reports don’t take into account which COVID variant participants are infected with. But given Delta is predominating in the UK at present, it’s a safe bet the symptoms we see here reflect the Delta variant.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

While fever and cough have always been common COVID symptoms, and headache and sore throat have traditionally presented for some people, a runny nose was rarely reported in earlier data. Meanwhile, loss of smell, which was originally quite common, now ranks ninth.

There are a few reasons we could be seeing the symptoms evolving in this way. It may be because data were originally coming mainly from patients presenting to hospital who were therefore likely to be sicker. And given the higher rates of vaccination coverage in older age groups, younger people are now accounting for a greater proportion of COVID cases, and they tend to experience milder symptoms.

It could also be because of the evolution of the virus, and the different characteristics (viral factors) of the Delta variant. But why exactly symptoms could be changing remains uncertain.


Read more: Coronavirus: how long does it take to get sick? How infectious is it? Will you always have a fever? COVID-19 basics explained


While we still have more to learn about the Delta variant, this emerging data is important because it shows us that what we might think of as just a mild winter cold — a runny nose and a sore throat — could be a case of COVID-19.

This data highlight the power of public science. At the same time, we need to remember the results haven’t yet been fully analysed or stratified. That is, “host factors” such as age, gender, other illnesses, medications and so on haven’t been accounted for, as they would in a rigorous clinical trial.

And as is the case with all self-reported data, we have to acknowledge there may be some flaws in the results.

Does vaccination affect the symptoms?

Although new viral variants can compromise the effectiveness of vaccines, for Delta, the vaccines available in Australia (Pfizer and AstraZeneca) still appear to offer good protection against symptomatic COVID-19 after two doses.



Importantly, both vaccines have been shown to offer greater than 90% protection from severe disease requiring hospital treatment.

A recent “superspreader” event in New South Wales highlighted the importance of vaccination. Of 30 people who attended this birthday party, reports indicated none of the 24 people who became infected with the Delta variant had been vaccinated. The six vaccinated people at the party did not contract COVID-19.

In some cases infection may still possible after vaccination, but it’s highly likely the viral load will be lower and symptoms much milder than they would without vaccination.

We all have a role to play

Evidence indicating Delta is more infectious compared to the original SARS-CoV-2 and other variants of the virus is building.

It’s important to understand the environment is also changing. People have become more complacent with social distancing, seasons change, vaccination rates vary — all these factors affect the data.

But scientists are becoming more confident the Delta variant represents a more transmissible SARS-CoV-2 strain.


Read more: What’s the difference between mutations, variants and strains? A guide to COVID terminology


As we face another COVID battle in Australia we’re reminded the war against COVID is not over and we all have a role to play. Get tested if you have any symptoms, even if it’s “just a sniffle”. Get vaccinated as soon as you can and follow public health advice.

By: Research Leader in Virology and Infectious Disease, Griffith University

Source: The symptoms of the Delta variant appear to differ from traditional COVID symptoms. Here’s what to look out for

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Critics:

Deltacoronavirus (Delta-CoV) is one of the four genera (Alpha-, Beta-, Gamma-, and Delta-) of coronaviruses. It is in the subfamily Orthocoronavirinae of the family Coronaviridae. They are enveloped, positive-sense, single-stranded RNA viruses. Deltacoronaviruses infect mostly birds and some mammals.

genesis

While the alpha and beta genera are derived from the bat viral gene pool, the gamma and delta genera are derived from the avian and pig viral gene pools.

Recombination appears to be common among deltacoronaviruses.Recombination occurs frequently in the viral genome region that encodes the host receptor binding protein. Recombination between different viral lineages contributes to the emergence of new viruses capable of interspecies transmission and adaptation to new animal hosts.

References

  1. Lau SKP, Wong EYM, Tsang CC, Ahmed SS, Au-Yeung RKH, Yuen KY, Wernery U, Woo PCY. Discovery and Sequence Analysis of Four Deltacoronaviruses from Birds in the Middle East Reveal Interspecies Jumping with Recombination as a Potential Mechanism for Avian-to-Avian and Avian-to-Mammalian Transmission. J Virol. 2018 Jul 17;92(15):e00265-18. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00265-18. Print 2018 Aug 1. PMID: 29769348

External links

The 5 Most Commonly Reported Covid-19 Symptoms

 

The official list of Covid-19 symptoms should be expanded as the existing one could “miss many Covid-19 cases”, experts have argued. The UK should follow other countries and include a broader range of symptoms, according to a group of scientists. Classic symptoms of Covid-19, listed on the NHS website, are a high temperature, a new continuous cough and/or a loss or change to a person’s sense of smell or taste.

But the most commonly reported symptoms by people taking part in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Covid-19 Infection Survey are cough, headache and fatigue. The latest ONS release shows 61% of people who tested positive reported symptoms. Of these, 42% had a cough, 39% reported headache and 38% reported fatigue, according to the ONS.

Muscle ache was reported by a quarter of people and 32% reported having a sore throat. Meanwhile a third reported fever and 21% reported loss of smell and 15% reported loss of taste. A separate study – the Zoe Covid Symptom study – recently reported that a headache, sore throat and runny nose are now the most commonly reported symptoms. These are most likely symptoms of the Delta variant.

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Dr Alex Crozier and colleagues – including Professor Calum Semple who is a member of Sage – suggest that limiting testing to only people with fever, cough and a change in taste or smell could “miss or delay identification of many Covid cases”.

They suggest this could “hamper efforts to interrupt transmission” of the virus. The group argue that increasing the symptom list could improve Britain’s pandemic response by expanding the criteria for self-isolation and eligibility for symptomatic testing.

The “narrow” case definition “limits” the early detection of contagious people, which restricts the efforts of the Test and Trace programme, they say. Non-traditional symptoms “often manifest earlier”, they added. The US Centres for Disease Control lists 11 more symptoms than the UK, and the World Health Organisation includes nine more. The testing capabilities are now able to facilitate people with a broader spectrum of symptoms, they added.

They say testing people with a single non-specific symptom could overwhelm capacity in the UK, but “combinations of symptoms could be used to help identify more cases sooner without overwhelming testing capacity”. The authors continue: “The UK’s decision to adopt a narrow case definition was based on ease of communication, avoiding confusion with other infections and preserving testing capacity.

People who had mild symptoms at first can still have long-term problems, says the NHS. The signs of long Covid vary from person to person, but the NHS now lists the following common symptoms: extreme tiredness (fatigue), shortness of breath , chest pain or tightness , problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”), difficulty sleeping (insomnia), heart palpitations, dizziness , pins and needles ,joint pain, depression and anxiety, tinnitus, earaches, feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite, a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste and rashes.

This situation is now different — testing capacity is high. “Covid-19 is associated with a wide range of symptoms. Many patients do not experience the UK’s official case-defining symptoms, initially, or ever, and other symptoms often manifest earlier. Limiting the symptomatic testing to those with these official symptoms will miss or delay identification of many Covid-19 cases, hampering efforts to interrupt transmission.

“Expanding the clinical case definition of Covid−19, the criteria for self-isolation, and eligibility for symptomatic testing could improve the UK’s pandemic response. The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment by PA Media. We will update this piece if there is a response.

The reason women might be more susceptible to long Covid might lie in differences in how our immune systems work – or that’s what scientists hypothesise, anyway. Research is needed to look into this. In a 2016 review on the differences in immune responses between males and females, professor Sabra Klein, of The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and professor Katie Flanagan, of Monash University, said females’ strong immune responses result in faster clearance of pathogens and greater vaccine efficacy compared to males. But it also contributes to females’ increased susceptibility to inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

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Source: The 5 Most Commonly Reported Covid-19 Symptoms | HuffPost UK Life

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Patients with COVID-19 can present with neurological symptoms that can be broadly divided into central nervous system involvement, such as headache, dizziness, altered mental state, and disorientation, and peripheral nervous system involvement, such as anosmia and dysgeusia. Some patients experience cognitive dysfunction called “COVID fog“, or “COVID brain fog”, involving memory loss, inattention, poor concentration or disorientation. Other neurologic manifestations include seizures, strokes, encephalitis, and Guillain–Barré syndrome (which includes loss of motor functions).

Other neurological symptoms appear to be rare, but may affect half of patients who are hospitalized with severe COVID-19. Some reported symptoms include delirium, stroke, brain hemorrhage, memory loss, psychosis, peripheral nerve damage, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Neurological symptoms in many cases are correlated with damage to the brain’s blood supply or encephalitis, which can progress in some cases to acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. Strokes have been reported in younger people without conventional risk factors.

As of September 2020, it was unclear whether these symptoms were due to direct infection of brain cells, or of overstimulation of the immune system. A June 2020 systematic review reported a 6–16% prevalence of vertigo or dizziness, 7–15% for confusion, and 0–2% for ataxia.

References

The Future of Travel in the Covid-19 Era

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After being shut down for nearly a year and a half, international travel has started to pick up again, with countries in the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe paving the way. The reopening of borders has been far from straightforward as the world negotiates inequities in Covid-19 containment, vaccine access, and economic recovery. And everything can change in an instant.

For airlines, airports, cruise lines, and hotels, the new normal is increasingly looking like the old normal; While advanced cleaning protocols are (happily) here to stay, social distancing and even mask requirements have started to peel away. A lack of cohesive guidelines from governing authorities mean that protocols are being patched together by individual properties and companies, leaving consumers to wade through fine print and determine what fits their risk thresholds.

If the wealthiest initially set the tone for the future of nonessential travel, the masses are now unleashing a storm of pent-up demand that has caused prices to multiply and availability to evaporate. Compounding those issues are labor shortages in many popular vacation destinations, already slim inventory gobbled up by last year’s cancelations, and a hampered import market that’s making it impossible to get a rental car or wrap up that hotel renovation. Consumers may feel safe traveling again, but it’s going to be a bumpy rebound.

Those of us who remain stuck in place can still daydream. According to the National Institutes of Health, simply planning a trip can spark immeasurable joy—and there’s high hope that the ongoing challenges of availability and border restrictions will iron themselves out by 2022. Getting into an adventurous frame of mind can remind us of the power of travel—not only in the billions of dollars in daily economic activity but also to forge cross-cultural connections and bring us closer to those we love.

By The Numbers

  • $150 million The amount of cash U.S.-based airlines were losing on a daily basis as of March 2021.
  • 1.2 million Average increase of daily travelers passing through TSA checkpoints in June 2021, compared to June 2020. The number still represents roughly a 30% decline from 2019 figures.
  • 67 Percentage of people who would feel confident traveling once vaccinated.

Why It Matters

It’s not just your vacation or business trip that’s on the line. The travel industry customarily accounts for 10% of the global economy, rippling to the remotest corners of the world. Each trip a person takes sets off a domino effect of consumption that directs dollars to airlines, hoteliers, restaurateurs, taxi drivers, artisans, tour guides, and shopkeepers, to name a few. In all, the tourism industry employs 300 million people. Especially in developing countries, these jobs can present pathways out of poverty and opportunities for cultural preservation.

In 2020, the pandemic put a third of all tourism jobs at risk, and airlines around the world said they needed as much as $200 billion in bailouts. By December, the World Tourism Organization had tallied $935 billion in global losses from the tourism standstill, and was estimating that the ripple effects would result in a total economic decline exceeding $2 trillion. Even with international tourism now cautiously reopening, the organization expects that the world will not return to 2019 tourism levels until 2023.

According to data from the World Travel and Tourism Council, every 1% increase in international arrivals adds $7.23 billion to the world’s cumulative gross domestic product. Any improvement in this sector is significant—and it’s just beginning.

Americans, who have easy access to vaccines and command an overwhelming share of the international travel market, are back on the road; two-thirds intend to take a trip in 2021. In the U.S., flight capacity has climbed back to 84% of 2019 levels. The questions are what it will take for the rest of the world to catch up and how the industry must evolve to be flexible at handling future Covid-19 variants so travelers will feel safe and willing to spend.

Grounded for many months, airlines are beefing up their summer schedules—though the number of flights will be a fraction of their pre-pandemic frequency. Airports are still mostly ghost towns (some have even been taken over by wildlife), and international long-distance travel is all but dead. Around the globe, the collapse of the tourist economy has bankrupted hotels, restaurants, bus operators, and car rental agencies—and thrown an estimated 100 million people out of work.

With uncertainty and fear hanging over traveling, no one knows how quickly tourism and business travel will recover, whether we will still fly as much, and what the travel experience will look like once new health security measures are in place. One thing is certain: Until then, there will be many more canceled vacations, business trips, weekend getaways, and family reunions.

Travel will normalize more quickly in safe zones that coped well with COVID-19, such as between South Korea and China, or between Germany and Greece. But in poorer developing countries struggling to manage the pandemic, such as India or Indonesia, any recovery will be painfully slow.

All this will change the structure of future global travel. Many will opt not to move around at all, especially the elderly. Tourists who experiment with new locations in their safe zones or home countries will stick to new habits. Countries with strong pandemic records will deploy them as tourism marketing strategies—discover Taiwan! Much the same will be true for business, where ease of travel and a new sense of common destiny within each safe zone will restructure investment along epidemiological lines.

With the support of IATA and others, the International Civil Aviation Organization developed a global restart plan to keep people safe when traveling. Restart measures will be bearable for those who need to travel, with universal implementation the priority. It will give governments and travelers the confidence that the system has strong biosafety protections. And it should give regulators the confidence to remove or adjust measures in real time as risk levels change and technology advances.

Contributors: Nikki Ekstein

Source: The Future of Travel in the Covid-19 Era – Bloomberg

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The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the tourism industry due to the resulting travel restrictions as well as slump in demand among travelers. The tourism industry has been massively affected by the spread of coronavirus, as many countries have introduced travel restrictions in an attempt to contain its spread. The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimated that global international tourist arrivals might decrease by 58% to 78% in 2020, leading to a potential loss of US$0.9–1.2 trillion in international tourism receipts.

In many of the world’s cities, planned travel went down by 80–90%.Conflicting and unilateral travel restrictions occurred regionally and many tourist attractions around the world, such as museums, amusement parks, and sports venues closed. UNWTO reported a 65% drop in international tourist arrivals in the first six months of 2020. Air passenger travel showed a similar decline. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development released a report in June 2021 stating that the global economy could lose over US$4 trillion as a result of the pandemic.

References

Will Covid Return When It Gets Colder?

In this week’s edition of the Covid Q&A, we look at what the cold weather might bring for the virus. In hopes of making this very confusing time just a little less so, each week Bloomberg Prognosis is picking one question sent in by readers and putting it to experts in the field. This week’s question comes to us from Rebecca in Albany, New York. She asks:

What will happen to infection rates in the U.S. when cold weather returns next fall?

While many parts of the world are still battling outbreaks of Covid-19, this summer in the U.S. it’s started to feel like the pandemic is over. Many states have completely done away with restrictions, and national case numbers are at their lowest levels since the pandemic began. But new, more contagious variants of the virus are on the rise, and there are regional pockets of vaccine holdouts that threaten to keep Covid in circulation.

All this suggests, unfortunately, is that it’s likely the U.S. isn’t done with the coronavirus just yet. “While it’s not purely a function of cooler temperature, Covid will rise again in the fall (if it doesn’t before),” says Andrew Noymer, a professor of public health at University of California, Irvine. “Covid’s future is as a seasonal disease in the fashion of influenza — and Covid’s future is now. Covid will be back in the fall or winter, or both.”

Without U.S. inoculation rates far higher than their current level, Noymer says, vaccines are unlikely to stop a cold-weather surge. “The vaccines will make the coming wave less severe than the one that crested in January 2021, but vaccination rates are currently not high enough to prevent another wave,” he says.

A resurgence was always likely, he says, but more contagious strains like the delta variant first identified in India may make the wave come sooner.  “Every major viral respiratory disease is seasonal with a winter dominance,” he says. “Influenza doesn’t vanish, and neither will Covid.”

Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington, said that projections by the school’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show a slow rise in cases in early September that will pick up with winter and peak in late January or early February. How bad it gets, he says, will depend on vaccination coverage, the variants in circulation and whether people return to habits like mask-wearing.

Still, several Covid vaccines appear to be far more efficacious than those for the seasonal flu. That means that while we may see a resurgence of the coronavirus, the worst is still most likely behind us.

Track the virus

One in Five Young Adults Not Working, Studying 

Almost one in five young adults in the U.S. was neither working nor studying in the first quarter as Black and Hispanic youth remain idle at disproportionate rates. The increase last quarter appears to be driven largely by joblessness, while school attendance rose moderately as campuses started to reopen, according to the study. Young adults are still experiencing double-digit unemployment rates.

Inactive youth is a worrying sign for the future of the economy, as they don’t gain critical job skills to help realize their future earnings potential.

People will be interacting more often indoors in places with poor ventilation, which will increase the risk of transmission, says Mauricio Santillana, a mathematician at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who models disease spread.

But even if there is a small seasonal effect, the main driver of increased spread will be the vast number of people who are still susceptible to infection, says Rachel Baker, an epidemiologist at Princeton University in New Jersey. That means people in places that are going into summer shouldn’t be complacent either, say researchers.

“By far the biggest factor that will affect the size of an outbreak will be control measures such as social distancing and mask wearing,” says Baker.

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Evidence so far

Seasonal trends in viral infection are driven by multiple factors, including people’s behaviour and the properties of the virus — some don’t like hot, humid conditions.

Laboratory experiments reveal that SARS-CoV-2 favours cold, dry conditions, particularly out of direct sunlight. For instance, artificial ultraviolet radiation can inactivate SARS-CoV-2 particles on surfaces1 and in aerosols2, especially in temperatures of around 40 °C. Infectious virus also degrades faster on surfaces in warmer and more humid environments3. In winter, people tend to heat their houses to around 20 °C, and the air is dry and not well ventilated, says Dylan Morris, a mathematical biologist at Princeton. “Indoor conditions in the winter are pretty favourable to viral stability.”

To assess whether infections with a particular virus rise and fall with the seasons, researchers typically study its spread in a specific location, multiple times a year, over many years. But without the benefit of time, they have tried to study the seasonal contribution to SARS-CoV-2 transmission by looking at infection rates in various places worldwide.

A study4 published on 13 October looked at the growth in SARS-CoV-2 infections in the first four months of the pandemic, before most countries introduced controls. It found that infections rose fastest in places with less UV light, and predicted that, without any interventions, cases would dip in summer and peak in winter. In winter, “the risk goes up, but you can still dramatically reduce your risk by good personal behaviour”, says Cory Merow, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, and a co-author of the study. “The weather is a small drop in the pan.”

But Francois Cohen, an environmental economist at the University of Barcelona in Spain, says that testing was also quite limited early in the pandemic, and continues to be unreliable, so it is impossible to determine the effect of weather on the spread of the virus so far.

Baker has tried to tease apart the effect of climate on the seasonal pattern of cases during the course of a pandemic, using data about the humidity sensitivity of another coronavirus. She and her colleagues modelled5 the rise and fall in infection rates over several years for New York City with and without a climate effect, and with different levels of control measures.

They found that a small climate effect can result in substantial outbreaks when the seasons change if control measures are only just managing to contain the virus. “That could be a location where climate might nudge you over,” Baker says. The team posted its results on the preprint server medRxiv on 10 September; the authors suggest that stricter control measures might be needed during winter to reduce the risk of outbreaks.

In the future

If SARS-CoV-2 can survive better in cold conditions, it’s still difficult to disentangle that contribution from the effect of people’s behaviour, says Kathleen O’Reilly, a mathematical epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “Flu has been around for hundreds of years and the specific mechanism as to why you have peaks of flu in the winter is still poorly understood,” says O’Reilly.

And even if researchers had more reliable data for SARS-CoV-2, they would see only small or negligible seasonal effects so early in the pandemic, when much of the population is still susceptible, says Relman.

Over time, however, seasonal effects could play a more important part in driving infection trends, as more people build up immunity to the virus. This could take up to five years through natural infection, or less if people are vaccinated, says Baker.

But whether a seasonal pattern emerges at all, and what it will look like, will depend on many factors that are yet to be understood, including how long immunity lasts, how long recovery takes and how likely it is that people can be reinfected, says Colin Carlson, a biologist who studies emerging diseases at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

What you should read

Source: Will Covid Return When It Gets Colder? – Bloomberg

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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in misinformation and conspiracy theories about the scale of the pandemic and the origin, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease. False information, including intentional disinformation, has been spread through social media, text messaging,and mass media. Journalists have been arrested for allegedly spreading fake news about the pandemic. False information has also been propagated by celebrities, politicians, and other prominent public figures. The spread of COVID-19 misinformation by governments has also been significant.

Commercial scams have claimed to offer at-home tests, supposed preventives, and “miracle” cures. Several religious groups have claimed their faith will protect them from the virus. Without evidence, some people have claimed the virus is a bioweapon accidentally or deliberately leaked from a laboratory, a population control scheme, the result of a spy operation, or the side effect of 5G upgrades to cellular networks.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared an “infodemic” of incorrect information about the virus that poses risks to global health.While belief in conspiracy theories is not a new phenomenon, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this can lead to adverse health effects. Cognitive biases, such as jumping to conclusions and confirmation bias, may be linked to the occurrence of conspiracy beliefs.

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Delta Coronavirus Variant: Scientists Brace For Impact

When the first cases of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant were detected in the United Kingdom in mid-April, the nation was getting ready to open up. COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths were plummeting, thanks to months of lockdown and one of the world’s fastest vaccination programmes. Two months later, the variant, which was first detected in India, has catalysed a third UK wave and forced the government to delay the full reopening of society it had originally slated for 21 June.

After observing the startlingly swift rise of the Delta variant in the United Kingdom, other countries are bracing for the variant’s impact — if they aren’t feeling it already. Nations with ample access to vaccines, such as those in Europe and North America, are hopeful that the shots can dampen the inevitable rise of Delta. But in countries without large vaccine stocks, particularly in Africa, some scientists worry that the variant could be devastating.

“In my mind, it will be really hard to keep out this variant,” says Tom Wenseleers, an evolutionary biologist and biostatistician at the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium. “It’s very likely it will take over altogether on a worldwide basis.”

Delta, also known as B.1.617.2, belongs to a viral lineage first identified in India during a ferocious wave of infections there in April and May. The lineage grew rapidly in some parts of the country, and showed signs of partial resistance to vaccines. But it was difficult for researchers to disentangle these intrinsic properties of the variant from other factors driving India’s confirmed cases past 400,000 per day, such as mass gatherings.

Delta data

The Delta variant has been linked to a resurgence of COVID-19 in Nepal, southeast Asia and elsewhere, but its UK spread has given scientists a clear picture of the threat it poses. Delta seems to be around 60% more transmissible than the already highly infectious Alpha variant (also called B.1.1.7) identified in the United Kingdom in late 2020.

Delta is moderately resistant to vaccines, particularly in people who have received just a single dose. A Public Health England study published on 22 May found that a single dose of either AstraZeneca’s or Pfizer’s vaccine reduced a person’s risk of developing COVID-19 symptoms caused by the Delta variant by 33%, compared to 50% for the Alpha variant. A second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine boosted protection against Delta to 60% (compared to 66% against Alpha), while two doses of Pfizer’s jab were 88% effective (compared to 93% against Alpha).

Preliminary evidence from England and Scotland suggests that people infected with Delta are about twice as likely to end up in hospital, compared with those infected with Alpha.

“The data coming out of the UK is so good, that we have a really good idea about how the Delta variant is behaving,” says Mads Albertsen, a bioinformatician at Aalborg University in Denmark. “That’s been an eye-opener.”

Denmark, which, like the United Kingdom, is a world leader in genomic surveillance, has also seen a steady rise in cases caused by the Delta variant — although far fewer than most other European countries. It is only a matter of time before the variant becomes dominant in Denmark, says Albertsen, but the hope is that its expansion can be slowed through vaccination, surveillance and enhanced contact tracing. “It’s going to take over,” he says, but “hopefully in a few months and not too soon.”

Meanwhile, the Danish government is easing restrictions, not re-imposing them: restaurants and bars have been open for months to individuals who have been vaccinated or received a recent negative test, and, as of 14 June, masks are no longer required in most indoor settings. “It is looking good now in Denmark, and we are keeping a close eye on the Delta variant,” says Albertsen. “It can change quite fast, as it has done in the UK.”

Cases of the Delta variant in the United Kingdom are doubling roughly every 11 days. But countries with ample vaccine stocks should be reassured by the slower uptick in hospital admissions, says Wenseleers. A recent Public Health England study1 found that people who have had one vaccine dose are 75% less likely to be hospitalized, compared with unvaccinated individuals, and those who are fully protected are 94% less likely to be hospitalized.

US spread

Delta is also on the rise in the United States, particularly in the Midwest and southeast. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared it a variant of concern on 15 June. But patchy surveillance means the picture there is less clear. According to nationwide sampling conducted by the genomics company Helix in San Mateo, California, Delta is rising fast. Using a rapid genotyping test, the company has found that the proportion of cases caused by Alpha fell from more than 70% in late April to around 42% as of mid-June, with the rise of Delta driving much of the shift2.

Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health in Shreveport, expects Delta to eventually become dominant in the United States, “but to be somewhat blunted by vaccination”. However, vast disparities in vaccination rates could lead to regional and local variation in cases and hospitalizations caused by Delta, says Jennifer Surtees, a biochemist at the University at Buffalo, New York, who is conducting regional surveillance.

She notes that 70% of eligible New Yorkers have received at least one dose of vaccine — a milestone that triggered the lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions last week — but that figure is below 40% in some parts of the state. Communities with high proportions of African American and Hispanic individuals, where vaccination rates tend to be low, could be especially hard hit by Delta. “These are populations that are really at risk of a localized outbreak from Delta, so I think it’s really important to still keep tracking and watch this as much as possible,” Surtees says.

Data from Helix2 on nearly 20,000 samples sequenced since April suggest that the Delta variant is spreading faster in US counties where less than 30% of residents have been fully vaccinated, compared to the counties with vaccination rates above that threshold.

Africa at risk

Delta poses the biggest risk, scientists say, to countries that have limited access to vaccines, particularly those in Africa, where most nations have vaccinated less than 5% of their populations. “The vaccines will never come in time,” says Wenseleers. “If these kinds of new variant arrive, it can be very devastating.”

Surveillance in African countries is extremely limited, but there are hints that the variant is already causing cases there to surge. Several sequences of the variant have been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an outbreak in the capital city of Kinshasa has filled hospitals. The variant has also been detected in Malawi, Uganda and South Africa.

Countries that have close economic links to India, such as those in East Africa, are probably at the greatest risk of seeing a surge in cases caused by Delta, says Tulio de Oliveira, a bioinformatician and director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform in Durban, South Africa. In his country, all of the Delta cases have been detected in shipping crews at commercial ports, with no signs yet of spread in the general community.

De Oliveira expects it to stay this way. South Africa is in the middle of a third wave of infections caused by the Beta variant (also known as B.1.351) identified there last year. This, combined with a lack travel from countries affected by Delta, should make it harder for a new variant to take hold.

Similar factors could be keeping Delta at bay in Brazil, which is battling another immune-evading variant called P.1, or Gamma, says Gonzalo Bello, a virologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Rio de Janeiro, who is part of a team conducting national surveillance. So far, Brazil has sequenced just four cases of the Delta variant in the country.

While countries gird themselves against the Delta variant — or hope that it passes them by — researchers say we need to watch for even greater threats. “What most people are concerned about are the next variants — if we start to see variants that can really challenge the vaccines,” says Albertsen.

By: Ewen Callaway

Source: Delta coronavirus variant: scientists brace for impact

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Delta variant, also known as lineage B.1.617.2, is a variant of lineage B.1.617 of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It was first detected in India in late 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) named it the Delta variant on 31 May 2021.

It has mutations in the gene encoding the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein causing the substitutions T478K, P681R and L452R, which are known to affect transmissibility of the virus as well as whether it can be neutralised by antibodies for previously circulating variants of the COVID-19 virus. Public Health England (PHE) in May 2021 observed secondary attack rates to be 51–67% higher than the alpha variant.

On 7 May 2021, PHE changed their classification of lineage B.1.617.2 from a variant under investigation (VUI) to a variant of concern (VOC) based on an assessment of transmissibility being at least equivalent to B.1.1.7 (Alpha variant), first identified in the UK (as the Kent variant). Subsequently on 11 May 2021, the WHO also classified this lineage VOC, and said that it showed evidence of higher transmissibility and reduced neutralisation. The variant is thought to be partly responsible for India’s second wave of the pandemic beginning in February 2021.

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Sage Modelling Warns of Risk of ‘Substantial’ Covid Third Wave

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New modelling for the government’s Sage committee of experts has highlighted the risk of a “substantial third wave” of infections and hospitalizations, casting doubt on whether the next stage of Boris Johnson’s Covid roadmap can go ahead as planned on 21 June.

Government sources suggested the outlook was now more pessimistic but stressed that a decision would be taken after assessing a few more days’ worth of data on the effect that rising infections are having on hospitalizations.

The prime minister is due to announce on Monday whether the lifting of the remaining restrictions – nicknamed “freedom day” by anti-lockdown Tory MPs – will have to be delayed.

Johnson is understood to be personally frustrated at the prospect of delaying the reopening, but a No 10 source said there were now clearly signs for concern in the data.

Key ministers and officials are expected to discuss a range of options on Sunday, when Johnson will still be hosting the G7, including a two- to four-week delay, as well as the possibility of a watered-down reopening that keeps some rules in place.

A Whitehall source said it was “broadly correct” that the outlook was now more pessimistic. “Cases are obviously higher and they are growing quickly,” the source said.

Prof Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said modelling updated this week suggested there was a risk of a surge in infections and hospitalizations that could rival the second wave in January.

Johnson sounded markedly less confident than in recent days when he was asked about the case for a delay as he visited a wind farm in Cornwall on Wednesday as part of the buildup to the G7 summit.

“What everyone can see very clearly is that cases are going up and in some cases hospitalizations are going up,” he said. “I think what we need to assess is the extent to which the vaccine rollout, which has been phenomenal, has built up enough protection in the population in order for us to go ahead to the next stage.

“And so that’s what we’ll be looking at. And there are arguments being made one way or the other, but that will be driven by the data. We’ll be looking at that and we’ll be setting it out on Monday.”

The prime minister had previously repeatedly said he had seen nothing in the data to justify a delay.

Ferguson said the cases of the Delta variant were now doubling in less than a week, close to what was seen before Christmas when the Alpha variant took hold and sent infections soaring in January to a daily peak of 68,000. What is unclear is how long the doubling will continue with so many adults vaccinated, and what proportion of new cases will turn into hospitalizations and deaths.

“There is a risk of a substantial third wave,” Ferguson said. “It could be substantially lower than the second wave or it could be of the same order of magnitude, and that critically depends on how effective the vaccines are at protecting people against hospitalization and death.”

He suggested there may be a case for postponing the reopening to get more shots into arms and reduce the size of any summer surge. “Clearly you have to be more cautious if you want measures to be irreversibly changed and relaxed,” he said. “Having a delay does make a difference. It allows more people to get second doses.”

Ministers have been encouraged by the enthusiasm with which younger people are taking up the opportunity to get their jab. The NHS announced that 1 million people had booked appointments through its website on Tuesday as eligibility was extended to 25- to 29-year-olds.

The next two to three weeks will be crucial for scientists on Sage to work out what the rise in hospitalizations – and potentially deaths – might look like in the months ahead.

Ferguson said: “One of the key things we want to resolve in the next few weeks is do we see an uptick in hospitalizations – we are seeing it in some areas – matching the cases, and what is the ratio between the two, because vaccination has substantially changed that.”

Evidence is firming up around the Delta variant being 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, with estimates ranging from 40% and 80%. The variant is somewhat resistant to vaccines, particularly after one dose.

While Ferguson believes we may see fewer deaths in the third wave compared with in January, the latest modelling does not rule out what he called a “disastrous” third wave if transmission and vaccine resistance are at the higher end of the best estimates.

The latest official data showed 7,540 new confirmed cases of the virus in England. Hospitalizations are not yet rising sharply nationwide, though they are surging in hotspot areas including Greater Manchester.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said trusts in hard-hit areas were confirming that the vaccines provide good protection against the virus.

“There is a growing sense that thanks to the vaccine, the chain seen in previous waves between rising infections and high rates of hospital admissions and deaths has been broken. That feels very significant,” he wrote in a blogpost for the British Medical Journal.

But Hopson warned that the NHS was already “running hot” in many areas, and an increase in Covid admissions would set back efforts to tackle the long backlog of treatment for other health problems that has been caused by the crisis.

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Source: Sage modelling warns of risk of ‘substantial’ Covid third wave | Health policy | The Guardian

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Critics:

Recommended preventive measures include social distancing, wearing face masks in public, ventilation and air-filtering, hand washing, covering one’s mouth when sneezing or coughing, disinfecting surfaces, and monitoring and self-isolation for people exposed or symptomatic. Several vaccines have been developed and widely distributed since December 2020.

Current treatments focus on addressing symptoms, but work is underway to develop medications that inhibit the virus. Authorities worldwide have responded by implementing travel restrictions, lockdowns and quarantines, workplace hazard controls, and business closures. Numerous jurisdictions have also worked to increase testing capacity and trace contacts of the infected.

The pandemic has resulted in significant global social and economic disruption, including the largest global recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It has led to widespread supply shortages exacerbated by panic buying, agricultural disruption, and food shortages. However, there have also been decreased emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Numerous educational institutions and public areas have been partially or fully closed, and many events have been cancelled or postponed. Misinformation has circulated through social media and mass media, and political tensions have been exacerbated. The pandemic has raised issues of racial and geographic discrimination, health equity, and the balance between public health imperatives and individual rights.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in misinformation and conspiracy theories about the scale of the pandemic and the origin, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease. False information, including intentional disinformation, has been spread through social media, text messaging, and mass media. Journalists have been arrested for allegedly spreading fake news about the pandemic. False information has also been propagated by celebrities, politicians, and other prominent public figures. The spread of COVID-19 misinformation by governments has also been significant.

Commercial scams have claimed to offer at-home tests, supposed preventives, and “miracle” cures. Several religious groups have claimed their faith will protect them from the virus. Without evidence, some people have claimed the virus is a bioweapon accidentally or deliberately leaked from a laboratory, a population control scheme, the result of a spy operation, or the side effect of 5G upgrades to cellular networks.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared an “infodemic” of incorrect information about the virus that poses risks to global health. While belief in conspiracy theories is not a new phenomenon, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this can lead to adverse health effects. Cognitive biases, such as jumping to conclusions and confirmation bias, may be linked to the occurrence of conspiracy beliefs.

See also

References