The Deltacron hybrid strain of Covid-19 is the latest variant to worry Australian health experts as Covid case numbers soar.
On Wednesday, daily cases in New South Wales reached 24,151, Queensland had 8,534, and Victoria had 12,150. Across Australia, daily cases averaged 56,000 – nearly triple the rate of mid-February.
So what do you need to know about the latest ‘Deltacron’ strain? We asked the Covid experts.
What is the ‘Deltacron’ strain?
Deltacron is a hybrid ‘recombinant’ of the Delta and Omicron strains of Covid-19.
It was first detected in France in February, but case numbers have remained low worldwide.
‘If Deltacron wound up as something with the virulence of Delta and transmissibility of Omicron, then that would be something to really worry about,’ said Professor Catherine Bennett, chair in epidemiology at Deakin University.
Many recognise Delta as the Covid strain potentially producing the most severe illness. On the upside, studies showed vaccination reduced the risk of infection and severe illness from Delta.
Omicron, which emerged in late 2021, is more contagious than Delta but generally produces less severe illness.
Despite widespread fears over hybrid variant ‘Deltacron’, most experiences of Covid-19 though unpleasant will confine the sufferer to home for a week or so but be no worse
Microbiologist Professor Peter Collignon says rising Covid infections now would actually mean winter isn’t as scary as some have predicted this year
The Deltacron hybrid strain of Covid-19 is the latest variant to worry Australians, with some predicting nightmare scenarios are possible
‘That could mean more severe illness, especially in people who are not fully vaccinated, but at the moment, we are not seeing that.’
The reality of Deltacron is also that it is an umbrella term for local recombinant strains – happening in different parts of the world where Delta and Omicron have been present at the same time.
That means Deltacron may not be exactly the same everywhere.
Masks remain one of the most important precautions against Covid infection experts say
Even after recovering from Covid, it is advised to wear a mask as you may still be positive
Is Deltacron even in Australia?
Professor Bennett says genomic testing from infection samples is being conducted, but the likelihood that Deltacron has reached Australia is very low.
‘We would know if it was here in any number, especially if associated with more of a Delta-like illness.’
Another strain discussed but not yet apparent here is the XE variant, a combination of two Omicron strains – BA.1 and BA.2 – and potentially more infectious.
There have been 640 cases in Britain, but experts are not concerned it is more severe than BA.2.
Deltacron is not yet confirmed in Australia, but it’s likely it is or will get here – as we have not been shielded entirely from any strains or variants of Covid-19
Professor Bennett says genomic testing from infection samples is being conducted, but the likelihood is that Deltacron is minor if it’s even present here
What is happening with Covid overall in Australia?
While there are rising Covid case numbers, Professor Bennett said there is little evidence for a resurgence in cases of the delta strain.
In fact, they look more like Omicron, especially the BA.2 strain.
‘We are seeing the high transmissibility of Omicron is still dominating, and that keeps anything not as infectious at bay.’
The way viruses work is that one strain at a time tends to dominate, by definition, that is the most infectious version.
If that strain is less virulent, the hospitals won’t see as much traffic through intensive care wards.
Australians can go about their everyday lives but should still take reasonable precautions against the spread of Covid, experts say – including getting vaccinated.
Australians can go about their normal lives but should still take reasonable precautions against the spread of Covid, experts say
People with Covid will often be too unwell to be out and about – which should help slow the spread of the virus
Professor Peter Collignon, professor of microbiology at the Australian National University, said recombinant variants could be more lethal, ‘but the track record shows that is not happening so far, so let’s go with the track record’.
Do new restrictions look necessary with more people getting sick?
Ironically, the growth of Covid infections may control the spread because many people are ‘too unwell to be out and about’, Professor Bennett said.
‘If you have more people with symptoms, even if they’re not bad enough to put you in hospital, you are less likely to be out mixing.
‘When people have symptoms they can’t ignore, they won’t be taking it to work, restaurants, or visiting friends. That slows the virus down.’
The virus is expected to spread more easily as people head back indoors over winter
Why do people keep saying the virus will get worse in winter?
Winter is a concern, Professor Collignon says, because viruses spread more easily when we are indoors in close proximity.
For this reason, Professor Collignon advises anyone who is unvaccinated to get vaccinated ‘especially if you are older’.
Older or immunosuppressed people should also get a booster if they haven’t had one before Winter.
Professor Collignon advises people to entertain ‘outside on the veranda at lunchtime instead of over dinner inside at night’.
‘We’re lucky in Australia, we can do that.’
Will Deltacron – or any other variant – create extra danger this winter?
Professor Bennett said the continued dominance of Omicron, most likely via the BA.2 strain, means the worst-case scenarios about Deltacron appear unlikely.
‘We wouldn’t expect Deltacron to be anything like the Delta outbreaks last year,’ she said.
That is partly because the high take-up of vaccines ‘tamed the virus’ in terms of transmission and the number of people in hospitals.
Professor Collignon says the current spread of Covid-19 could actually mean winter in Australia is not as bad as initially feared.
That is because the high numbers of people getting sick and recovering raises the proportion of the population with good quality immunity.
Professor Collignon says the current spread of Covid-19 could actually mean winter in Australia is not as bad as initially feared
Reinfection from Covid is not common although it does happen
‘I have been fairly pessimistic about winter, but the other way of looking at it is winter may not be as bad because so many people have been infected, so they’ll have immunity for the next six to 12 months.’
‘Studies from Qatar show that people who have had two doses of a vaccine and a Covid infection have greater protection than those who have had two doses and a booster.’
But isn’t it possible to get Covid twice?
Yes, but as a proportion of cases, reinfection is extremely low and appears to happen mostly in younger people.
‘A recent Danish study showed that reinfections were rare, making up only 1 in 10,000 of reported infections,’ Professor Bennett said.
‘It is possible there are more reinfections, but they might be so mild or have no symptoms that they are not reported.
‘So this suggests that the risk is low, especially in people who are vaccinated.’
The best protection against Covid remains vaccination, experts say
What precautions are most important this winter?
Aside from vaccination, which has reduced the severity and spread of the virus, there are several precautions we can take.
‘Well-fitting masks when around people from other households, especially when indoors and can’t keep your distance,’ Professor Bennett said.
If you can, keep some distance from people so you don’t breathe in as they breathe out.
The greater ability of BA.2 to live on surfaces increases the need to wash our hands and avoid ‘high touch’ surfaces too.
‘Practice hand hygiene, especially when out and about and touching common surfaces like hand rails or lift buttons,’ Professor Bennett said.
How do I tell if I have Deltacron?
If you get a positive Covid test result, you won’t know what strain it is – no public tests currently tell us that.
But if your symptoms are bad enough to send you to bed, you probably won’t care what strain you have.
The symptoms that tend to confirm you have Covid and not influenza or a ‘supercold’ are loss of taste and smell.
Other than that, Covid tends to include fever, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, brain fog, a sore throat and a runny nose. Earache is also emerging as a symptom of Omicron.
In many cases recovery from Covid – in terms of being able to resume life as normal – takes at least two weeks and up to a month
How do I recover from Covid?
That depends on how sick you get. In most cases, the infectious period is over in seven days.
The infectious, or acute period can last up to two weeks and that is likely to be when your symptoms are worst: including fever, headaches, an aching body, breathing difficulties and fatigue.
Some cases include diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting.
If breathing difficulties become severe and you experience severe confusion or chest pain, call 000.
If your symptoms can be managed from home, it is advised to rest and stay hydrated by drinking water, herbal tea or juice and to take paracetamol to reduce fever.
But in many cases, recovery – in terms of being able to resume life as normal – takes at least two weeks and up to a month.
Post-COVID-19 symptoms, such as a lingering cough, mild fever, tiredness, and a reduced sense of smell or taste, can last for weeks or months after you recover from the acute stage.
When symptoms last for months, they are commonly referred to as ‘Long Covid’, which has drawn comparisons to chronic fatigue syndrome.
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