Data on the clinical and virological characteristics of the Delta variant of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are limited. This prospective cohort study compared the characteristics of the Delta variant to other variants.
Adult patients with mild coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) who agreed to daily saliva sampling at a community isolation facility in South Korea between July and August 2021 were enrolled. Scores of 28 COVID-19-related symptoms were recorded daily. The genomic RNA and subgenomic RNA from saliva samples were measured by real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Cell cultures were performed on saliva samples with positive genomic RNA results.
A total of 141 patients (Delta group, n = 108 [77%]; non-Delta group, n = 33 [23%]) were enrolled. Myalgia was more common in the Delta group than in the non-Delta group (52% vs 27%, P = .03). Total symptom scores were significantly higher in the Delta group between days 3 and 10 after symptom onset. Initial genomic RNA titers were similar between the 2 groups; however, during the late course of disease, genomic RNA titers were higher in the Delta group. Negative conversion of subgenomic RNA was slower in the Delta group (median 9 vs 5 days; P < .001). The duration of viral shedding in terms of positive viral culture was also longer in the Delta group (median 5 vs 3 days; P = .002).
COVID-19 patients infected with the Delta variant exhibited prolonged viable viral shedding with more severe symptoms than those infected with non-Delta variants.