BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health on Thursday, June 24, announced it detected the state's first case of the Delta variant, which is believed to be more contagious than any other coronavirus strain.

The case occurred in an adult who was not hospitalized, the health department said in a news release. Officials did not say where the case was discovered.

The Delta variant was first detected in India and is classified as one of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "variants of concern," meaning it is more transmissible and can cause severe COVID-19 symptoms.

"This variant, because of its increased infectivity, is predicted to become the predominant virus variant circulating in the United States," Kirby Kruger, North Dakota's disease control director, said in a statement.

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Preliminary data show the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are 88% effective in protecting against symptomatic infection and are highly successful in preventing severe symptoms and hospitalizations caused by the Delta variant, the North Dakota Department of Health said.

Kruger said there's evidence to suggest that a previous infection with COVID-19 may not provide protection against the Delta variant.

The Delta variant has become the most prevalent strain in India and England, and the CDC estimates it makes up 32% of infections in a region that includes North Dakota and five Western states.

The nation's leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said at a briefing this week that the Delta variant is "currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19."

The CDC has identified a total of six COVID-19 variants of concern, and the North Dakota Department of Health says among the state’s COVID-19 deaths, 10 were infected with a variant.

Throughout the pandemic, the North Dakota Department of Health has confirmed 1,078 cases of variants, of which almost 90% were cases of the strain that was first detected in the United Kingdom.

The transmissibility of the variant and the unknowns surrounding natural immunity underscore the need for North Dakotans to get vaccinated, said state immunization manager Molly Howell.

Unvaccinated North Dakotans are five times more likely to be hospitalized because of COVID-19 than those immunized against the illness, Howell said Thursday.

"The COVID-19 vaccines are the best tool we have to slow the emergence of this variant and all other variants of this virus," Howell said.

Readers can reach reporters Jeremy Turley at jturley@forumcomm.com and Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

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