COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 from UK is much deadlier than earlier strains, study warns

EXETER, England — People infected with the United Kingdom variant of COVID-19 are significantly more likely to die, a new study warns. British epidemiologists say the SARS-CoV-2 variant dubbed B.1.1.7 is anywhere from 30 to 100 percent more deadly than previous strains.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Bristol reveals that the new variant is to blame for 227 deaths in a sample of 54,906 patients. That’s notably higher than the 141 closely matched deceased patients infected with earlier virus strains.

“In the community, death from COVID-19 is still a rare event, but the B.1.1.7 variant raises the risk. Coupled with its ability to spread rapidly this makes B.1.1.7 a threat that should be taken seriously,” says study lead author Robert Challen in a university release.

B.1.1.7 has already spread to more than 50 countries across the globe. One study projected the variant to become the dominant version of COVID-19 in the United States by spring. It was first detected in Kent, England in September 2020, spreading like wildfire and forcing another lockdown across the UK in January.

“We focused our analysis on cases that occurred between November 2020 and January 2021, when both the old variants and the new variant were present in the UK,” explains Leon Danon, senior author of the study. “This meant we were able to maximize the number of ‘matches’ and reduce the impact of other biases. Subsequent analyses have confirmed our results.”

Researchers say because the variant spreads so rapidly, people who might be considered as low-risk last year could now face hospitalization.

SARS-CoV-2 appears able to mutate quickly, and 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,” says Danon.

The study is published in the British Medical Journal.