Published on August 16, 2021

Woman wearing a mask looking out a window.

What you need to know about the destructive Delta variant

Viruses mutate. It is in their nature. And if a mutation proves to be advantageous to a virus, it can spread quickly.

Mutation is what created the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, and the result has been a huge summertime surge of infection all across the country.

COVID-19 cases have been increasing rapidly in recent weeks, and the Delta variant now accounts for nearly all of the current infections. In some states with low rates of vaccination, hospitals are becoming overwhelmed with patients.

The Delta variant is not last year’s coronavirus. Consider this:

  • The variant is far more infectious than earlier versions of the virus.
  • For those infected with the Delta variant, the viral load — that is, the amount of virus in the body — is far greater than for earlier versions of the virus. It can be up to 1,200 times greater.
  • Younger, healthier people are being infected with the variant at a higher rate.
  • There is evidence that the Delta variant causes more acute disease.
  • The variant is resulting in some breakthrough infections among those who have been vaccinated, though vaccinated people typically don’t become sick enough to require hospital care.
  • Vaccinated people who become infected with the Delta variant can spread the virus to others.

Nearly all of the serious illnesses and deaths from COVID-19 in the United States are now occurring among unvaccinated people. That means that nearly all of this suffering and death could be avoided.

"If you have not yet protected yourself through vaccination, the highly infectious Delta variant poses a significant threat," said Matthew Wack, MD, infectious disease specialist at ProHealth Care. "Getting vaccinated and wearing a mask are the most effective tools we have for combating the spread of COVID-19. You will save someone’s life by doing both."

Vaccination helps protect everyone from COVID-19, even those who have recovered from the virus. A new CDC study notes that unvaccinated people are more than twice as likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 as those who had the virus and later received the vaccine.  

The vaccines now available in the U.S. can reduce the risk of severe disease or death by tenfold or more. When more people are vaccinated, the risk to vulnerable populations, including people who are not medically eligible for the vaccine and young children, is reduced.

The Delta variant is the most frightening version of this virus to emerge so far, but even worse variants may lie down the road if we don’t stop the spread of the virus through vaccination.

ProHealth Care offers vaccination by appointment on the campus of ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital. Local pharmacies and other locations provide free vaccinations, too.

For more information about vaccination, visit these CDC resources: "Don’t Run Down the Shot Clock" and "When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated: How to Protect Yourself and Others."