From Alpha to Omega …

By Megan Brodie 3 years ago | In Comment
  • 3 years ago

13 August 2021

Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta – to date, these four strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have become synonymous with the countries in which they were first detected.

Alpha was the strain that emerged in England in September 2020, driving a winter surge that sent the UK back into lockdown. Fifty per cent more transmissible than the original Wuhan strain, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews famously described it as travelling at “light speed”.

Beta is the South African strain, now reported in at least 122 countries.

Gamma is best known for its Brazilian roots, starting in an Amazon city in December 2020 and fast-spreading through South America.

Now, the best known of them all and said to be most infectious is the infamous Delta strain which originated in India. Said to be 60 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, this tricky strain is primarily responsible for the ‘second wave’ of Covid in much of the world, prevalent in 16 per cent of Covid cases globally.

Naming of variants based on letters of the Greek alphabet was introduced by the WHO after noting the “stigmatising and discriminatory” nature of variants being tagged after their country of origin.

While scientists still use the technical names – such as Delta’s B.1.617.2 – media outlets were urged to use the new, neutral labels.

The WHO now lists 13 Covid ‘variants of concern’ that have been identified, five of which have come from the Delta strain.

“The Delta variant causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of the virus that causes COVID-19. It might cause more severe illness than previous strains in unvaccinated people,” a report from the US Centers for Disease Control published this month states.

Viruses by their very nature continue to mutate, with the most infectious strains more likely to flourish. Already, a Delta Plus variant has appeared in numerous countries.

Dr Anthony Fauci, medical advisor to US President Joe Biden, said the world is “lucky that the vaccines we have now do very well against the variants – particularly against severe illness” while recognising a future variant could ‘push aside’ delta and get around vaccines.

The WHO has also identified new ‘variants of interest’ – Eta and Iota, both designated in March, and Kappa, which like Delta originated in India. The most recent variant to be given a WHO ‘variant of interest’ tag is Lambda, added to the list in June after its significant spread in Peru.

Three other variants previously classified as being of interest: Epsilon, Zeta, and Theta have since been dropped down a designation as more epidemiological evidence was gathered.

While HSC Greek is a subject few are likely to have taken, former students of Ancient History may at least now be digging into the memory banks to recite the Greek alphabet and impress their friends in virtual trivia quizzes or online chats.

For those of us not so familiar with our Alphas and Omegas, it’s a good time to get to know the letters of the Greek alphabet. While Delta may be the dominant strain in Australia at present, it is highly unlikely to be the last.

©MedNews 2021

Leave a Reply