A highlight from Coronapod: How Delta is changing the game

Nature Podcast


Entering a new era now new strategies. There's some new eye knowns and we've got a vaccine hello and welcome to corona pod. I'm no baker and joining me is a new voice across the board and passed to the nature pocus entirely ms toy. Emma how are you. Hi now yeah. I'm fine thanks. how you i'm very well. Thank you so brief intimation here. I'm recording this. After moore and i finished our interview i got the recordings and you will notice. There's a little bit of background. Noise turns out the lives really close to an airfield and because she's so close to it she tunes them out and didn't really even notice that they were there. However you might. And so. I ask you to bear with such the realities of recording from home anyway back to march out so for those who don't know you. Can you tell us who you are what you do at nature that may say i'm a news editor at nature which means that i'm usually squirreling away in the background. Commissioning and editing of the news stories that you might see on the magazine or on the website. say yeah. i'm not often on the podcast. I'm coming out of my editing covered for that. That's one of the reasons speaking to you as an editor rather reported this week is because what we're going to talk about is delta now that a continuous stream of stories about and so i'm talking to you because you've edited a few of them and so maybe we can get a little bit of a broader picture. Let me say delta. We're talking about the various delta. Why is it. This is such an important story story for us to be talking about. Yeah you're absolutely right. It seems like there has just been tons of stories about the delta variant. This last couple of weeks and i think part of that is because in many parts of the world now the delta variant has become dominant. This is something that worries people it makes people and it makes her such is curious so there's a lot of people who want to study the delta variant. They want to know things like why is it that it can spread so fast. Is it going to cause a problem for vaccination rollout so. There's just been a flurry of research activity. I think started. Probably when the delta variant i started to emerge as a variant of concern and a lot of those studies coming out now which is why we're doing tons of reporting on this shift towards delta becoming the dominant variant that we're seeing in transmission in various countries around the world really reminds me of a shift we saw with the alpha therrien quite some time ago so there was the ovarian was first detected. Actually in kent. In the part of the uk where i'm currently sitting and then that quickly became the dominant variant across the world and delta is now following in its footsteps part of the reason that this is even more vital to study in this case is that now in the context of the delta various birding we have got a degree of vaccination across the world so on that note i guess i want to start with vaccination like what are the study saying about delta and vaccines. Yeah you're right. Say one of the big questions. People are asking is in light of vaccination programs here in the k. For example quite big proportion of adults are now vaccinated against that delta is dominant so researchers public health officials. Really want to know how well does vaccinating people work against delta as compared to other variants. It's kind of not looking good studies in the. Us seemed to confirm the idea. That delta's more likely than other variants like alpha beta to spread among the vaccinated population. And i feel like there's a kind of a sense that this might be the case for a while and these studies have started to try to add behind that and they've done it using pcr testing. Can you explain the methodology using these studies. Yeah as you say. They used that pr tests. Which are just the tests that you go forward to confirm whether or not you have covert so when you go to get a tests. They take swab and they swap your throat. your nose. they send off that test part of what they do. Is they convert the viruses. Genetic material into dna and the pcr amplifies replicates dna to the point where it can be detected. And then they can tell whether you've got current ivars however they can also tell how much current a virus you had in your sample by the number of those reputations. They need to do in order to get it to a point where it can be detected so when you look at a. Pcr's like this you come up with a measure called the cycle thresholds and. That's the number of these cycles that you need to get the dna to the point where it's detectable and if you have a low score for the cycle threshold that means you had a high concentration of virus in in your sample because you you don't need to do. As many of these cycles to get it detectable and there was a study looking at people in wisconsin in the us. They took these results from people. He tested positive. For current avars ninety percent of whom had the delta variant and some of these people had been vaccinated and they found they actually had these low ct values comparable to people in delta it who had not been vaccinated all low enough to be a level where they think it could spread to other people. So that's not really a very good sign because it means that even if you've been vaccinated if you happen to you one of those people who catch what's going to breakthrough infection when you've been vaccinated yet can still haas it onto other people even if the vaccination means you'll be less likely to come hospitalized or die so i think the take home message from studies like that is that being vaccinated. It's great being vaccinated does office and protection but it doesn't mean that you can't catch cove it doesn't mean that you can't spread it to other people if you do so. Some health authorities on the basis of some of these studies have adjusted their advice to say. We still think you should mosque up. If you're in like a poorly ventilated crowded area. For example you should still consider things like social distancing but we still don't know a lot about it. This data is coming in almost in real time. Scientists having to analyze it on the hoof and make decisions on that basis. Indeed there was a study that came out of houston texas again. It's a similar study. It's the analysis the kind of analysis. We're talking about before. But one of the other outcomes analysis suggested that delta accounted for three times more breakthrough cases so cases where people can track cova despite being vaccinated than all the other variants combined so again. This is a situation which shows why delta is particularly important to study here and particularly to understand because it really does seem to be a different ballgame compared to the very yeah absolutely that same study also found that people with delta seem to stay in hospital when they were hospitalized. They with there longer than people who had other variants. So there's a sense that perhaps delta's kind of different in other ways to other variants is gonna slightly different biology. There's another study that came out of singapore which set the although vaccinated people who have delta are still infectious. They might be infectious for a shorter time than without the variant. There's a lot of information that's kind of a fire. Hose of information coming out and it can be difficult to make sense of so. Let's try to make sense of some of a lab scientist turns science journalists slashes science pocus maker but i do still find some comfort and understanding in getting a sense of some of the mechanisms behind why this might be happening and there are studies that are starting to point to that as well. Why do we think delta might be acting so differently to other variants of the virus yet. This is not a huge area of interest. This is the million dollar question because if we know why it spreads or how it can spread so easily that might provide us with kind of ways or tools to try and stop it try and cut down the spread so there's a lot of scientists who really drilling down into the biology liquor.

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