The FBI of Infectious Diseases


LOS ANGELES, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— The Delta variant is now the most dominant strain in the U.S. It is 55 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant and patients infected with the Delta variant are one-point-eight times more likely to be hospitalized. But a team of researchers is devising the best strategy to corner COVID and keep its damage from spreading. Infectious diseases.

Alpha…Gamma…Delta…these COVID-19 variants have been making headlines all around the world. But in this Florida lab, researchers are using the power of collaboration to strengthen the response against COVID-19 variants within the U.S.

“It really takes a number of different collaborators from public health agencies at a local, state and federal level, along with academics at public and private institutions, and private industry partners to really mount a robust public health response to a pandemic,” Taj Azarian, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences at UCF, told Ivanhoe.

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That’s why these researchers are building a network where they can collect samples from places that normally wouldn’t submit COVID data, such as schools, urgent care centers and private hospitals to better track how a variant emerges.

Azarian shared, “So, it really is focusing on genomic surveillance of the virus. Then interrogate it to understand how the virus is spreading, how it’s changing over time.”

And detect changes early to strategize a better response, not only for the next variant but also the next pandemic.

The research team at UCF will also track reinfection and vaccine breakthrough cases. These are cases where someone who was fully vaccinated contracted COVID.

Contributors to this news report include: Milvionne Chery, Producer; Matt Goldschmidt, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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BACKGROUND: The COVID Delta variant was originally discovered in India last December and has now become the most dominant strain of the coronavirus circulating globally. Research indicates that it is the most transmissible variant yet, as much as 60 percent more contagious than the Alpha variant, which itself fueled numerous waves of the pandemic around the world. Delta has already spread to at least 98 countries, and prompted explosive outbreaks in countries or areas of countries with low vaccination rates. In the U.S., Delta has quickly become the dominant strain. Research by the U.K. government has found that full vaccination is effective against the Delta strain but may be slightly less effective than against other variants, particularly after only one dose; however, numerous COVID experts and the WHO warn that Delta variant will soon become the most dominant COVID strain in the world and drive rapid outbreaks among unvaccinated populations.


DIAGNOSING: All variants of COVID-19 are diagnosed with a medical history which includes any recent known exposure to COVID-19, and a physical exam to check for symptoms of COVID-19. An antibody test may be used to determine if a person had a past COVID-19 infection, but it is not used to diagnose current infections because it takes up to 3 weeks following infection for the body to produce antibodies to the virus. Regular COVID tests do not test for variants. State health departments may run tests to help determine prevalence of a particular variant in that state, but it is unlikely individual patients would learn which variant they are infected with.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Research at UCF is creating a project to help control the Delta variant. The work could affect approaches to control the virus, such as isolation strategies and vaccine development, and establish infrastructure to respond to future emerging infectious diseases. The work at UCF will be led by Taj Azarian, an assistant professor and infectious-disease epidemiologist in the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. Azarian will work closely with Marco Salemi, the project’s lead at UF. Azarian says particular interest will be placed on monitoring cases of reinfection or vaccinated people who become sick with COVID-19. These viral isolates will be prioritized for genome sequencing, which will allow the experts to identify new variants and understand how the virus is spreading in the community.




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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Taj Azarian, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine

Read the entire Q&A