Coronavirus has not gone away, and now there’s another new variant on the scene: delta-plus.
As the name suggests, is a mutant version of the delta variant. In recent days it has been identified in Thailand and Australia, bringing the total of countries with confirmed delta-plus cases to 42.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), formerly Public Health England, has designated delta-plus a “variant under investigation”. Because it is not yet deemed to be a variant of interest or concern, it has not been given an official Greek alphabet name in the same way that delta and alpha were. For now, the “delta-plus” name remains a colloquialism.
But what do we know about the variant? Is it more transmissible than others? And will vaccines still work?
What’s different about the delta-plus variant of coronavirus?
First, some naming housework. Covid-19 is the name of the disease, and it’s caused by a virus called Sars-Cov-2.
Delta, alpha, and so on are variants of Sars-Cov-2 – they have mutations of some description which make them materially different to the original virus which started to spread at the end of 2019.
Delta-plus is a variant of the delta variant. Its official name, for the time being, is “VUI-21OCT-01”. Catchy. It’s also known by the name “AY.4.2”.
The variant has three mutations compared to delta, two of which are in its spike protein – the proteins on the surface of viral particles that the body’s antibodies recognise. It’s possible that the mutations help the virus penetrate the body’s cells, but it’s currently too early to tell.
Is delta-plus more dangerous than delta? Is it resistant to the vaccines we have?
UKHSA has said delta-plus does not cause worse disease – as far as we know. The agency said: “While evidence is still emerging, so far it does not appear this variant causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective.
However, it’s possible that the variant spreads more easily, which could still cause problems if that greater transmissibility means more vulnerable people contract the disease.
In the week ending October 21, delta-plus accounted for around six per cent of all delta cases in the UK.
Where did delta-plus originate?
We’re not sure where delta-plus actually came from, but we know it was first identified in the UK. The first delta variant originated in India, meanwhile.
As of the latest count (October 26), 93 per cent of global delta-plus cases have been detected in the UK.
It could be that the UK merely identified the variant first because our genome sequencing capabilities are ahead of those of most other countries. Or it could have originated here, because our case rate is significantly higher than many other countries.
Does delta-plus have different symptoms to other Covid strains?
At present, there is no consensus on whether different strains of Sars-Cov-2 cause different symptoms. The NHS, for example, only lists the three we now know all too well – a cough, raised temperature, and a change in smell or taste – for any and all of the variants. The US Centre for Disease Control, on the other hand, lists a range of others, such as headaches, muscle aches, a sore throat, and diarrhoea.
Nobody has yet been able to identify any symptomatic differences between delta and delta-plus.
What should I do about delta-plus?
The message from the scientists is clear: keep carrying out the same best practice as we’ve already been doing.
Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “The public health advice is the same for all current variants. Get vaccinated and, for those eligible, come forward for your third or booster dose as appropriate as soon as you are called.
“Continue to exercise caution. Wear a mask in crowded spaces and, when meeting people indoors, open windows and doors to ventilate the room. If you have symptoms take a PCR test and isolate at home until you receive a negative result.”