Home 2 Forums Covid -19 Covid: how much worse variants can get? Is there any limit

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    Sunil Kumar

    The Alpha variant, first identified in Kent, UK, performed a large jump in its ability to transmit. Now Delta, seen first in India, leapt further still.

    This is evolution in action.

    So how far could it go?

    The cleanest way of comparing the pure biological spreading power of viruses is to look at their R0 (pronounced R-naught). It’s the average number of people each infected person passes a virus on to if nobody were immune and nobody took extra precautions to avoid getting infected.

    That number was around 2.5 when the pandemic started in Wuhan and could be as high as 8.0 for the Delta variant, according to disease modellers at Imperial.

    So, how are the variants doing it?

    There are many tricks the virus could employ to get better at spreading, such as:

    improving how it opens the doorway to our body’s cells
    surviving longer in the air
    increasing the viral load so patients breathe or cough out more viruses
    changing when in the course of an infection it spreads to another person
    One way the Alpha variant became more transmissible was by getting better at sneaking past the intruder alarm – called the interferon response – inside our body’s cells. But this does not mean that by the time we work through the Greek alphabet of variants and reach Omega that we’ll end up with an unstoppable beast.

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