Highly contagious delta variant could prove tougher to diagnose, experts say

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The highly contagious delta variant is now the most dominant COVID-19 strain in the United States, but some health experts warn it could be harder to diagnose.

Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease specialist with Novant Health, said many who are sick with the delta variant are presenting more vague symptoms, such as a sore throat or runny nose.

Quickly differentiating those symptoms from similar patient complaints due to other illnesses, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is spiking in parts of the U.S., is a challenge for doctors. Depending on what happens between now and the cold and flu season this fall, a quick diagnosis of the delta variant could become even more difficult.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.

Experts are urging anyone who has any of the COVID-19 symptoms to get tested, even if they feel like it’s the common cold.

The CDC said the delta variant, a version of the coronavirus first identified in India, was first detected in the U.S. in January. It’s now spreading in more than 90 countries.

“These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19,” the CDC stated. “An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on healthcare resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.”

Experts say the delta variant spreads more easily because of mutations that make it better at latching onto cells in our bodies. It’s not clear yet whether the variant makes people sicker since more data needs to be collected, said Dr. Jacob John, who studies viruses at the Christian Medical College at Vellore in southern India.

All three COVID-19 vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — appear to stand up to the variant, but experts say the chance of getting the virus is much lower in someone who is fully vaccinated.

Currently, only about 48% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Some parts of the country have far lower immunization rates, and in those places, the delta variant is surging. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, has said that’s leading to “two truths” — highly immunized swaths of America are getting back to normal while hospitalizations are rising in other places.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, said it was inexplicable that some Americans are so resistant to getting a vaccine when scientific data show how effective it is in staving off COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

He said last week that 99.2% of recent COVID-19 deaths in the United States involved unvaccinated people.

For COVID-19 testing, there are a number of options, including:

  • Search for locations near you here.
  • Contact your local health department.
  • Call ahead to your local pharmacy, healthcare provider or insurance company for information.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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