UK variant more transmissible, not deadlier, study finds

The B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, which first emerged in the U.K. and is now the dominant strain in the U.S., is more contagious, though not tied to higher death rates or worse outcomes, compared to older strains, according to a study published April 12 in The Lancet. 

Researchers collected samples from 341 COVID-19 patients admitted between Nov. 9, and Dec. 20 at two London hospitals and performed genetic sequencing to determine the strain behind each patient's infection. Findings showed 58 percent of patients were infected with the B.1.1.7 variant.

Those with the variant had a higher viral load, indicating increased transmissibility, but overall did not face higher death rates or worse outcomes, such as requiring ventilation, compared to those with older strains of the virus. 

"If you need hospitalization, you're not worse with this variant compared to the previous virus strain," Dr. Eleni Nastouli, senior study author, and clinical virologist and pediatrician at University College London told The Wall Street Journal. "Of course, if you're requiring hospital admission for COVID-19, that is a worry. But it's not more than the previous strain."

The variant was seen more frequently in patients who were younger, had fewer comorbidities and in ethnic minority groups. Patients with the variant were also more likely to receive oxygen via a mask or nasal prongs, according to the research. 

COVID-19 vaccines have shown good protection against the variant, according to Michael Osterholm, PhD, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. 

To view the full study, click here. 


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