Threat of a new variant

As the Delta variant of COVID-19 is blamed for the current explosion of infections in Barbados in recent weeks, there is a genuine fear among local doctors that a new, more infectious variant could develop either in the island or in the region.

It is a scenario that the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) says ought to be considered in planning for management of the disease which is now overwhelming the limited medical personnel treating those who have come down with the viral illness.

BAMP president Dr Lynda Williams explained why variants are so dangerous and infectious, saying that these mutant viruses, particularly Delta, were capable of creating many copies of themselves, ensuring the fittest and most resistant forms of the virus spread.

“Like every organism on this planet, COVID is going to mutate. It multiplies inside of people, and you will have big infections among people with lower immunity. They will get an overwhelming infection and the rate at which the virus multiples is obviously a lot higher,” the medical practitioner told COVID Dispatch.

Dr Williams, who is a University of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine-trained epidemiologist, said it was still not clear why some people become super-spreaders and why one person has so many more copies of the virus than another person.

“What we know is that this concept occurs with some people who have COVID-19,” she reported. “The ones that are the fittest get passed on. What you are seeing now is evolution in motion.”

Noting that mutations are more likely among large populations where there is limited healthcare, especially among the poor, she cited COVID-19 mutations that developed in South Africa, India and Brazil.

She stressed that while some people may not want to admit it, Barbados and the Caribbean fall into this category.

“A lot of people don’t realise this and that is why BAMP has called over and over again for reporting on mutants, because we have the potential to have a mutant here that has not yet been seen. It does not only happen in big countries, it can happen here,” the BAMP president emphasised.

With the current outbreak of the Delta variant, Dr Williams said careful attention must be paid to observing not only the transmissibility of the variants circulating in the Barbados population but whether people were getting sicker.

So far, she said, the evidence does not suggest people were being made sicker, but because there was a larger outbreak the chances of more vulnerable people becoming infected and dying are increased significantly. (IMC1)