Concerning news regarding the B.1.617.2 COVID-19 variant, also known as the “delta” variant, is emerging out of India. Reports indicate that Delta may be the source of a variety of new symptoms previously unassociated with COVID-19.
Symptoms including hearing impairment, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, joint pain, and gangrene-causing blood clots are all now linked to the delta variant, according to several doctors treating COVID-19 patients in India. A recent study conducted by a government panel in India found that delta was the “primary cause” behind the deadlier second wave, which has been wreaking havoc on the country in recent months.
India reported 18.6 million COVID cases during the first half of 2021, compared to 10.3 million throughout 2020. The delta COVID-19 variant is believed to be 50% more contagious than the Alpha strain that first surfaced in the U.K. last October. Delta has spread to more than 60 countries in the past six months alone, and it has since become the dominant strain in England and Scotland.
The delta variant carries a higher risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. It also has a higher transmission rate. Experts are racing to learn how the new symptoms could be manifesting from the delta strain.
“We need more scientific research to analyze if these newer clinical presentations are linked to B.1.617 or not,” Abdul Ghafur, an infectious disease physician at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai, told Bloomberg. “Last year, we thought we had learned about our new enemy, but it changed. This virus has become so, so unpredictable.”
In addition to seeing more patients with diarrhea than during the first wave of the pandemic, Ghafur said he is seeing entire families with COVID symptoms. This suggests surges in household transmission may be caused by the delta variant.
One of the more worrying symptoms of the delta variant is the appearance of small blood clots called microthrombi—a microscopic clump of fibrin, platelets, and red blood cells. In some severe cases, patients have developed gangrene due to the loss of affected tissue.
Mumbai cardiologist Ganesh Manudhane has treated eight patients for thrombotic complications during the last two months. Of those cases, two required amputation. “I saw three to four cases the whole of last year, and now it’s one patient a week,” Manudhane told Bloomberg.
Blood clots have likewise been found in blood vessels that supply the intestines, leading to stomach pain in some patients—even among those who haven’t experienced any other symptoms.
Hetal Marfatia, a Mumbai ear, nose, and throat surgeon, noted that some patients have even exhibited hearing loss, swelling around the neck, and severe tonsillitis. “Every person is showing different symptoms,” she said.
India has also been experiencing an outbreak of a rare infection called mucormycosis, exacerbating the pandemic’s toll on the country. Also known as “black fungus,” the highly deadly condition has been found in recovered and still-recovering COVID patients. It has a mortality rate of around 50%. As of May 22, mucormycosis had infected more than 8,800 COVID patients and survivors.
The fungus is caused by exposure to mucor mold that thrives in wet environments, commonly found in soil, plants, manure, and decaying fruits and vegetables. After attacking the respiratory tract, mucormycosis can quickly infect the brain, sinuses, or lungs. If the infection takes hold in the brain, it can lead to severe tissue damage to the face as well as blurry eyes or complete vision loss. Local health authorities are calling the condition an epidemic.
It remains to be seen how resistant the delta COVID variant may become to vaccines. Emerging evidence suggests that delta and at least one other variant may be capable of evading vaccine-induced antibodies.
Pharmaceutical companies are now under pressure to develop new or adapt existing vaccines, but Ghafur insists that scientists are working on it. “New vaccines have to [be] prepared with new variants in mind,” he said. “We can’t get ahead of the virus, but at least we can least keep up with it.”
Unlike the delta COVID variant, the beta and gamma variants have shown little to no evidence of triggering unusual symptoms in patients.