COVID-19 is a highly contagious viral disease that is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 simply known as SARS-CoV-2. The disease was first defined in 2019 hence the suffix 19.
Over the months since it was first defined it has undergone a series of mutations. At least five variants have been defined ever since the onset of the pandemic. Of note there is the Alpha variant which was first defined in the United Kingdom, the Beta variant which was first defined in South Africa and the Delta variant which was first defined in India.
The Delta variant which is the one that is currently affecting us and causing this ongoing third wave has a greater transmissibility compared to the other previous variants. This means it can easily spread from one infected individual to the next individual. It has also become more virulent meaning it has more capacity to make you sick compared to the previous variants. In terms of resistance to current conventional medications that we use against covid19 it also is ranked highest.
With all these factors in mind it is prudent for one to take cognizant of the fact that the basic covid19 protocols like practicing social distancing, wearing face masks, practicing hand hygiene and avoiding touching surfaces and also touching your face and preferring elbow bumps to handshakes should be practiced more religiously now than ever before. Minimising large crowds, public gatherings like parties, funerals and weddings should still be the order of the day. It is not time to let down your guard.
When it comes to the effectiveness of the currently available vaccines against the delta variant it is believed that the vaccine is less effective against it compared to previous variants. Nonetheless we say people that are vaccinated have by a long shot a better capacity to deal with the delta variant compared to their un-vaccinated counterparts. People that are vaccinated have a less chance of contracting the delta variant, less chance of getting admitted if they happen to contract it, less chance of getting into ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and definitely a less chance of dying from the delta variant. As such we encourage you to go and get vaccinated.
In terms of how the virus mutates, there are a lot of theories circulating in different media platforms, social media included. Some believe the mutations are man-made or created in laboratories. This is all not true. Viruses mutate as a way of survival. The more they get exposed to various forms of treatments they mutate as a way of surviving the attacks aimed at them. And as they mutate they gain new characteristics to strengthen them in the fight against the drugs we use against them and along the way they become more virulent and more infectious. This property is not unique to Covid-19, but is applicable to essentially all pathogens, viruses, bacteria, protozoa etc.
The symptoms of the delta variant are essentially the same as the other variants but they tend to be more severe. Cough, shortness of breath, generalized body weakness, headaches, chills and rigors are more marked. It has also been noticed that some people just have symptoms for a shorter period of time before their condition deteriorates. In some instances we are getting asymptomatic individuals who just collapse and die who test positive to the delta variant on post mortem. It is also affecting the young adults (20 to 40 years) more than the previous variants.
Treating the delta variant of covid19 has been a toll task for health practitioners. The reason being it is more resistant to the drugs that we normally use for the previous variants. For instance where we used to give azithromycin for a few days we might end up needing to use it for up to a week. The advantage we have is the introduction and permission by the government to use other newer drugs like Ivermectin. So this coupled with more experience in managing Covid-19 from previous cases has made it a bit better for us to manage the delta variant.
If we compare the delta variant to the Beta (the one that affected us during the second wave), we see that the number of cases are way higher for the former compared to the later. In January the highest number of cases we had in one day at the peak of the second wave was about 1350 yet with the delta variant we are already experiencing more than 2500 cases per day yet we say we haven’t reached our peak yet.
From Covid-19 PCR tests that have been conducted on deceased bodies it has been shown that most of the bodies that test positive to covid19 are actually from individuals that have not been vaccinated. This goes a long way to show that getting vaccinated with the sinopharm or sinovac vaccine that is currently available locally goes a long way to protect you against contracting and hence dying from covid19. Once more we implore every Zimbabwean who is eligible to get vaccinated to please go and get vaccinated. If a significant number of us are vaccinated say 70 to 80 percent have been vaccinated chances are we will achieve head immunity.
Head immunity simply means an enough number of people have been vaccinated and are now immune to a point of breaking the transmission chain. Once we get to head immunity then we will be safe from the virus as a nation. At such a point it will be easy for us to go back to life as usual i.e. moving around without face masks, no need for social distancing, gathering in unlimited numbers in funerals, weddings, churches, pubs, soccer stadiums and concerts. So if you want to go back to business as usual without travel restrictions and lockdowns, play your part and go and get vaccinated. The vaccine is very safe. I personally received my two doses more than two months ago and I’ve never had any complications. So please let’s play our part and get vaccinated to save ourselves and our loved ones.
Remember a healthy you, a healthy me to a healthy world.
Josephat Chiripanyanga is a Harare-based medical practitioner. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org