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DNA Explainer: Difference between Delta and Delta Plus variants – Symptoms, treatment, who’s at risk

The Delta Plus variant is fast emerging as the global COVID-19 variant of concern. It is a mutation of the Delta variant, which has been the dominant variant behind the COVID caseload around the world in 2021.

Delta variant was largely behind India’s catastrophic second wave and was identified spreading in communities in 84 other countries. Its mutation, Delta Plus, has reportedly been found in 11 countries already.

The Indian government recognized Delta Plus as a “variant of concern”, after finding cases in three states – Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.

Strict containment measures have been put in place in the clusters of Delta Plus, as identified by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG). In Maharashtra, experts fear a third wave in near future, fuelled by the new variant of concern.

Outside India, the Delta Plus variant has been found in countries like US, UK, Japan, Russia, China, Portugal, Switzerland and Poland.

Delta vs Delta Plus – The difference and the concern

What makes the Delta Plus variant a global concern is that it shows mutations acquired from both the Delta strain, first discovered in India, and the Beta strain, which was discovered in South Africa.

The new mutation of the B.1.617.2 strain or the Delta variant, as named by the WHO, has been found to have two graded mutations L452R and P871R. As per Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar, former head scientist of epidemiology and communicable diseases at ICMR, who spoke to a leading news website, these two mutations “add to the higher transmission efficiency so that the variant can spread quickly from one person to another or can enter into the cells much more efficiently compared to other strains that exist.”

Furthermore, the Delta Plus variant, also known as AY.1, has acquired the K417N mutation from the Beta variant.

The Beta variant is known for reduced efficacy of vaccines against it, compared to Alpha and Delta variants.

Is the Delta Plus variant more dangerous?

With concerning reports around the latest COVID-19 mutation, the Delta Plus variant, several ongoing studies are trying to understand the difference in virulence, severity of infection and symptoms.

As per the Indian government, the Delta Plus Variant has shown increased transmissibility, stronger binding capability to receptors of lung cells and potential reduction in response to monoclonal antibody treatment.

The Delta Plus variant reportedly spreads “almost 60 percent faster” than the Delta variant.

Symptoms and Treatment

Top virologists in India have stated that Delta Plus infections have shown symptoms from both the parent Delta variant as well as the partner Beta variant.

Major symptoms of the Delta Plus variant as listed are cough, diarrhoea, fever, chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, skin rash, discolouration of fingers and toes. Symptoms like stomach ache, nausea and appetite loss are also being attributed to the Delta Plus variant.

In terms of treatment, the Covishield and Covaxin vaccines have shown efficacy against the Delta variant. Research is still ongoing on the effective of vaccines against the Delta Plus variant.

However, some experts fear the variant might be able to evade immunity gained from earlier infections or COVID-19 vaccines.

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