Younger People in US Getting Hit Hard by Delta Variant

The Delta variant is burning through areas in the country where many people are unvaccinated and seems to be targeting younger Americans aged 50 and under and, says one ER physician, they’re “more intensive to care for.”

The iteration of COVID-19 that had the United States health care system reeling this time last year—D614G, the so-called wild type—burned through nursing homes and mostly targeted people older than 65. Now, public health care officials deal with the Delta variant, B.1.617.2, which is burning through areas in the country where many people are unvaccinated and seems to be targeting younger Americans, those age 50 and under, more than did its predecessor, according to Inci Yildirim, MD, PhD, a Yale Medicine pediatric infectious diseases specialist and a vaccinologist.

“As older age groups get vaccinated, those who are younger and unvaccinated will be at higher risk of getting COVID-19 with any variant,” says Yildirim. “But Delta seems to be impacting younger age groups more than previous variants.”

Sharon Ward-Fore, MS, MT(ASCP), CIC, FAPIC, a member of Infection Control Today®’s Editorial Advisory Board, said in an email to ICT® that “it’s past time for those hesitant to get vaccinated to step up and do their part, especially now that the Delta variant has found them. These deaths among a younger demographic are unnecessary and taking a toll, once again, on health care workers and supplies. This is a public health crisis and EVERYONE needs to do their part!”

Younger and asymptomatic people, medical experts warn, are not immune to getting long COVID, and the effects of long COVID might not be tallied for decades.

Nick Papacostas, MD, the president of the Alaska chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, tells the Anchorage Daily News, that he’s seeing in his emergency room people “sicker and younger than we were seeing last year, requiring either hospital admission or ICU admission. They’re really more intensive to care for, because they’re more ill.”

Younger and sicker patients are being seen in other ERs in other areas of the country, as well, according to published reports. The Delta variant seems to spread as easily as chickenpox, according to the CDC. As a Washington Post headline last week—quoting the CDC—put it: “the war has changed.”

As reported in Contagion®, ICT®’s sister publication, medical experts are still learning about the different effects COVID-19 has on different populations. Investigators from King’s College London have found that early symptoms from an infection with COVID-19 differ between age groups, as well as between men and women.

“As part of our study, we have been able to identify that the profile of symptoms due to COVID-19 differs from one group to another,” said Marc Modat, a senior lecturer at Kings College. “This suggests that the criteria to encourage people to get tested should be personalized using individuals' information such as age. Alternatively, a larger set of symptoms could be considered, so the different manifestations of the disease across different groups are taken into account.”

Symptoms for early detection included loss of smell, chest pain, persistent cough, abdominal pain, blisters on feet, eye soreness and unusual muscle pain.

Loss of smell is more acute in people over 60, than younger people. Men were more likely to report shortness of breath, fatigue, chills and shivers, while women were more likely to report loss of smell, chest pain and persistent cough.

Claire Steves, lead author on the study said, that “it’s important people know the earliest symptoms are wide-ranging and may look different for each member of a family or household. Testing guidance could be updated to enable cases to be picked up earlier, especially in the face of new variants which are highly transmissible. This could include using widely available lateral flow tests for people with any of these non-core symptoms.”

About 40,000 people are currently hospitalized in the US because of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. That’s about the same as it was this time last year. However, thanks to the vaccines and to mitigation efforts, the US won’t see the horrific death rates seen in previous COVID-19 surges. According to Johns Hopkins, 71 people in the US died from COVID-19 yesterday.