CDC: Fully vaccinated can spread the Delta variant; infectious disease experts point to variant’s characteristics

Doctors urge people to take advantage of the vaccines
Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 6:13 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus has guidance from the federal government evolving. And a local infectious diseases expert is not surprised given the mutation’s attributes.

Dr. Julio Figueroa is LSU Health’s Chief of Infectious Diseases.

“It’s really about the characteristic of this particular variant and those like it and this that you have so much virus, you know, there’s some calculations that there are a thousand times more virus in an individual infected with this particular variant than the original strain,” said Figueroa.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the warning related to the Delta variant and vaccinated Americans comes because of new data.

“With prior variants when people had these rare breakthrough infections we didn’t see the capacity for them to spread the virus to others but with the Delta variant we now see in our outbreak investigations that have been occurring over the last couple of weeks, in those outbreak investigations we have been seeing that if you happen to have one of those breakthrough infections that you can actually now pass it to somebody else,” said Walensky.

“If you have a thousand times or more of a particular virus and then you need only so much to be able to transmit it to another individual--you may get above that threshold so that you can actually pass it on to another individual. Now, again, it’s probably less in a vaccinated individual than in an unvaccinated individual but it may be still above that threshold,” Figueroa stated.

To reduce vaccinated people’s risk of becoming infected with the Delta variant and potentially spreading it to others the CDC issued the following recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals:

  • Wear a mask in public indoor settings if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
  • Fully vaccinated people might choose to mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in their household is unvaccinated. People who are at increased risk for severe disease include older adults and those who have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, overweight or obesity, and heart conditions.
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Get tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.
  • Isolate if they have tested positive for COVID-19 in the prior 10 days or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Follow any applicable federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations.

Dr. Yvens Laborde is the Ochsner Health System’s medical director for Global Health Education.

“This Delta variant is a fundamentally different virus than the original Wuhan virus,” he said.

For its part, the Louisiana Department of Health says everyone, regardless of vaccination status should get tested immediately if they suspect that they could have been exposed to the virus. And LDH says if the test is positive, they should isolate immediately. Also, the agency says if the test is negative people who think they were exposed to the virus should retest again between five and seven days post-exposure.

If COVID symptoms are present, LDH urges people to get tested and then isolate pending the results. And the agency says unvaccinated people should quarantine.

Amid the evolving recommendations, the message that being vaccinated is critical remains steady.

Figueroa says vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections tend to fare better than the unvaccinated.

“Fortunately, the vaccine does work which means that people don’t feel as sick, they may not even feel sick at all, but they still may be having the virus that they can transmit to other individuals if they’re not masking and taking care of those sorts of things,” he said.

Given the heat and humidity that comes with summertime in the South, many people are driven indoors and that aids the virus’ transmission.

“We know how to attack this and prevent transmission and that is to get vaccinated, to wear a mask indoors, and try to limit exposure,” said Figueroa.

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