Why is the Delta variant so much more transmissible than past COVID mutants?

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Credit: The Bell
Credit: The Bell

Upon first inspection, the mutations in the highly contagious delta covid variant don’t look that worrisome.

For starters, delta has fewer genetic changes than earlier versions of the coronavirus… But those expectations were wrong.

Delta does share mutations with other successful variants. Like all the identified variants in circulation, delta contains a spike mutation called D614G, sometimes known as “Doug,” which became ubiquitous last year.

Scientists think Doug increases the density of spike protein on the surface of viral particles and makes it easier for the virus to enter cells.

Delta also has a spike mutation called P681R, which closely resembles a mutation in the alpha variant that appears to produce higher viral loads in patients, Cooper said. People infected with delta have 1,000 times more virus in their respiratory tract, making them more likely to spread the virus when they sneeze, cough or talk.

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Another delta mutation — also found in kappa and epsilon — is called L452R. Experiments suggest this mutation, which also affects the receptor-binding domain, acts to prevent antibodies from neutralizing the virus, Cooper said.

These mutations appear to be more formidable as a team than alone.

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