COVID variant spreads from India

Graphic by Astrid Hernandez | Mercury Staff

UT Southwestern researchers have identified several cases of the highly infectious COVID-19 variant from India in North Texas.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, UT Southwestern has been conducting tests on COVID-19 specimens through whole-genome sequencing, which allows researchers to identify viral diseases and mutations that are found in the genetic material of a human cell.

As COVID-19 cases in India rose, the researchers identified a new strain while conducting these sequencing tests at their laboratory in Dallas. This variant – known as the Delta variant by the World Health Organization – is the B.1.617.2 strain, which is causing a second surge of COVID-19 in India.

Assistant Instructor of Pathology at UT Southwestern Jeffrey SoRelle said the Delta variant has a much higher transmissibility than other variants. This can be seen through the rise of the Delta variant in the United Kingdom.

“In Great Britain, 100% of cases were from the Alpha variant. While the country had cases of Beta and Gamma variants, only this Delta variant has risen in prevalence, now overtaking Alpha variant as the most common,” SoRelle said. “The main issue appears to be 50% increased transmissibility compared to the already more transmissible Alpha variant.”

Both UT Southwestern and the WHO have listed the Delta variant – first identified in India in December of 2020 – as a variant of concern due to its increased transmissibility. This variant still poses an increased risk for unvaccinated individuals, including those who do not wish to take or cannot take the vaccine due to health-related concerns and children under the age of twelve who are not yet authorized for immunization.

“The Delta variant does not show evidence of vaccine or immune resistance,” SoRelle said. “Laboratory studies and clinical evidence now indicate vaccines protect against the Delta variant.”

While vaccines are shown to protect against this variant, 3% of all current COVID-19 cases in the US are of the Delta variant. In Dallas County, there have been a total of six Delta variant cases.

Because children under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine, it’s important to keep following CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19 to prevent young children from getting the disease. SoRelle said to also take certain safety precautions if you have traveled to a country with high numbers of the Delta variant.

“If you have recently traveled to an endemic area such as India, you should self-quarantine for 10-14 days and get tested during this time,” SoRelle said. “If you have come into contact with someone who has traveled in an endemic area, you should monitor for symptoms and consider COVID-19 testing.”