Two new studies have published some encouraging results regarding the B.1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. This mutation, also known as the UK variant, had raised concerns it was more transmissible than previous variants and that it could lead to more severe outcomes, longer times of recovery, and higher mortality. However, this doesn't appear to be the case.
The latest research has found that while the new variant is more transmissable, it is not more deadly. B.1.1.7 spreads more quickly than previous variants and is more likely to cause infected people to be taken to hospital, but once there the risk of severe disease and death are similar to other versions of the virus.
The first of the two studies, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, reports that hospitalized patients with the UK variant had an increased viral load but did not have a more severe form of COVID-19. This was conducted on a small sample of 341 people in hospitals in London. Fifty-eight percent of them had a B.1.1.7 infection and 42 percent had non-B.1.1.7 infections. The general analysis, as well as a detailed analysis that took into account patients' characteristics such as sex, age, comorbidities, and ethnicity, show no differences when it comes to severe disease and death.
“Overall, the evidence suggests that B.1.1.7 is more likely to land you in the hospital than pre-existing variants of SARS-CoV-2, but once in the hospital there are no substantial differences in outcomes—or at least none that are statistically resolvable for now, given the limitation of low sample sizes,” Dr Nicholas Davies, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was not involved in the study, said in a press statement.
“While there is still much to learn about the severity of B.1.1.7, and additional studies—especially outside the U.K.—are sorely needed, any new piece of evidence needs to be properly contextualised with what we already know.”
The second study, published in The Lancet Public Health, used the COVID Symptom Study to investigate changes in symptoms between September 28 and December 27 2020 in the UK. It showed that the UK variant was indeed more transmissible but it did not evade existing testing and surveillance infrastructures.
The data also showed that there was no apparent increase in reinfection rate, so people who have developed antibodies, whether by catching the disease or due to the vaccines, are unlikely to catch this again until they have an immune response.
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