How the Delta variant differs: A virologist’s point-of-view

Tulane scientist says one of the variant’s mutations allows the virus to replicate at high levels
Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 6:46 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Since the fourth surge in COVID-19 infections began, we have heard a lot about how the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus is different from the original virus and a Tulane University virologist explains how.

Coronavirus depiction from CDC.
Coronavirus depiction from CDC.(Source: CDC)

Dr. Robert Garry is a professor at Tulane’s School of Medicine.

“The Delta variant has some mutations in the viral genome and that changes some of the viral proteins. So there’s one mutation in particular that when virologists saw it, raised some concern. It’s a mutation we call P681R and that mutation actually enables the virus to replicate to higher levels,” said Garry.

He was asked if the Delta variant changed after it was first identified in India and then in Europe.

“The Delta variant that’s here in the U.S. now is the same variant that arose apparently first in India, then went to the United Kingdom and now, unfortunately, we’re seeing it here mostly in the southern states of the United States. The virus is the same, it’s behaving the same,” said Garry.

The CDC says the virus is highly contagious. And cases of COVID-19 in children are steadily increasing.

“So the fact that it is causing kids to get sick is because it is more transmissible, so more children are getting infected. Of course, we have fewer children that have received the vaccine,” said Garry.

The Delta variant and the low level of vaccinations in some areas of the U.S. worry not only local public health experts but also federal health officials.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, also leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He said vaccines are the way out of the pandemic.

“Viruses cannot mutate unless they replicate. You protect the vulnerable targets, who are unvaccinated people by vaccinating them,” said Fauci. “And when you do so, you do a very, very strong blocking of the evolution of variants that could be problematic. The ultimate end game of all this is vaccination.”

Dr. Garry echoed the need for everyone who is old enough to be vaccinated to do so.

“I would just say to everybody, get the vaccine it makes a big difference no matter what variant you’re infected with. The vaccines will more than likely keep you out of the hospital and most importantly keep you from dying from COVID-19,” said Garry.

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