The more infectious U.K. coronavirus variant that scientists believe could “sweep the world” could be up to twice as deadly as previous dominant variants, researchers said Wednesday, underscoring the urgency of ongoing vaccination campaigns and rigorous monitoring to identify potentially dangerous mutant viruses as they arise.
The B.1.1.7. variant, which was first identified tearing through parts of the U.K. in late 2020, is both more infectious (some scientists say by as much as 70%) and between 30% and 100% more deadly than previous dominant variants of the virus, researchers reported in the British Medical Journal Wednesday, based on an analysis of death rates in over 54,000 people infected with Covid-19.
“Coupled with its ability to spread rapidly this makes B.1.1.7 a threat that should be taken seriously,” said Robert Challen, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the University of Exeter.
Leon Danon, a researcher from the University of Bristol and a senior author of the study, said the finding highlights that the apparent ability of Covid-19 “to mutate quickly,” adding that there is a “real concern that other variants will arise with resistance to rapidly rolled out vaccines.”
“Monitoring for new variants as they arise, measuring their characteristics and acting appropriately needs to be a key part of the public health response in the future.”
Since being identified in the U.K. last year, the B.1.1.7 variant has been reported in over 100 countries around the world, where a number of other variants are also cause for concern. The U.K. was praised for the speed at which it detected the novel mutant and genomic surveillance of viruses is going to be a vital part of managing the pandemic as vaccines are rolled out. Ellen Brooks-Pollock, a researcher from the University of Bristol and one of the paper’s authors, said it was “fortunate the mutation happened in a part of the genome covered by routine testing.” She warned that “future mutations could arise and spread unchecked” without careful surveillance.
What To Watch For
U.S. officials predict the variant will become the dominant strain in the country by March and it has already been found in a number of states.
More Contagious Variant Is Spreading Fast in U.S., Even as Overall Cases Level Off (NYT)
Risk of mortality in patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern 202012/1: matched cohort study (Forbes)
UK COVID-19 variant has significantly higher death rate, study finds (Reuters)
Top Scientist Says Contagious U.K. Covid-19 Variant Likely To ‘Sweep The World’ (Forbes)
A New Variant Of Covid-19 Has Emerged In England – Here Is What It Could Mean For The Pandemic And Vaccines (Forbes)