Too soon to tell if Delta variant symptoms are different: experts
TORONTO -- A recent U.K.-based study indicates that the symptoms associated with the Delta variant of COVID-19 may differ from the symptoms experienced earlier on in the pandemic, but Canadian experts say they haven’t seen that among patients.
The main symptoms to look for since the start of the pandemic have been a loss of taste and smell, fever and cough, but the U.K. study suggests that more people are reporting symptoms that are similar to that of a summer cold: fatigue, chills and generally feeling “off.” Experts say it could potentially be evolution of the virus, but it may also have something to do with the age of those infected.
“People who are younger tend to have lower vaccination rates, this is especially true in the U.K., because people below the age of 25 are hardly vaccinated,” Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of Ontario’s science advisory table, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday.
Throughout much of the pandemic, younger people have experienced milder symptoms or have been asymptomatic, which could explain the results of the U.K.-based study, he added. They’ve also been lower on the list of priorities for vaccinations. In the U.K., they only recently opened up vaccination appointments to those aged 21 and up.
While this could account for some of the different symptoms being reported, Juni said that people still need to be cautious with the Delta variant since it is highly transmissible and has higher hospitalization rates.
“This variant now results in about five to eight cases for each case if left unchecked, meaning the transmissibility is really much higher,” he said.
With earlier variants, each individual infection resulted in three to five new cases, he added.
Spread of the Delta variant could take hold among unvaccinated populations. A recent study indicates that even one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine provides some protection against the Delta variant.
“It is now much more likely than six months ago that unvaccinated people can get infected with the virus, and if they get infected with the virus, it's four times more likely than before that they end up in hospital,” Juni said.
While it’s important to be cautious and self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, experts aren’t entirely sold on the data out of the U.K. study, and have yet to see signs of these different symptoms reported in Canada.
“The data wasn't entirely clear to me of how many people were vaccinated in the actual symptom group,” Craig Jenne, infectious disease researcher and Canada Research Chair at the University of Calgary, told CTVNews.ca in an interview.
He said that the study itself has some flaws that makes it hard to compare the Delta variant and any potentially different symptoms to the Alpha or Beta variants.
“I think it's really difficult to compare this emerging data to what we know about the other ones because it's not a controlled study,” he said.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch says that even the runny nose and headache symptoms aren’t new to the virus.
“I wouldn't say that there's anything new. There's a large umbrella of symptoms that people can get with COVID-19,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday.
While he works in hospital and typically deals with people who have more severe COVID-19 symptoms, he hasn’t heard of more people developing headaches and runny noses with the Delta virus.
“I certainly have not, what is pretty clear though is that there's fewer and fewer cases here in Canada as well. We just don't have that many cases these days, it's still around...we’re closing COVID wards in certain hospitals, like we're shutting down COVID wards, because they're just not necessary in many hospitals,” he said.
While the data isn’t clear, all the experts agree that it’s more important than ever to proceed with caution.
“If you don't feel well you can get a test and it's really easy to get a test,” said Bogoch. “Just about anywhere the turnaround time for tests is very, very quick.”
The guidance set out at the beginning of the pandemic is still in effect and Canadians are advised to isolate if they exhibit any symptoms.
“The guidance has been all along: if for any reason you don't feel well please isolate until you can rule it out,” said Jenne.
Getting vaccinated will always provide better protection than none at all, and it’s important to get both doses in a timely manner.
“If you have had the first dose it helps a) to contribute to control of the pandemic and b) they’re also protected well against hospitalization, we can assume that we probably have 70 to 90 per cent protection against being hospitalized."