The coronavirus strain that first originated in the UK and is now spreading internationally is 64 percent more deadly than existing strains, according to a study published on Wednesday that confirms previous advice to the British government.
The variant, which was discovered at the end of last year, is one of several that have emerged in recent months from countries with major epidemics, which increases efforts in the race to curb the pandemic.
British authorities, who had already warned that the variant was significantly more transmissible, said in January that it was also believed to be up to 40 percent more lethal, based on a number of studies in the UK.
Results from one of these studies, led by the University of Exeter, were published in BMJ on Wednesday.
Researchers compared data for nearly 55,000 pairs of participants who tested positive in the community – rather than in hospitals – between October and January and followed them for 28 days.
Participants were matched on a range of factors such as age, gender and ethnicity.
They found that those infected with the new variant, known as B.1.1.7, were 64 percent more likely to die, which corresponds to an increase in deaths from 2.5 to 4.1 in every 1,000 cases detected.
👇New @bmj_latest study👇
Individuals infected with the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant of anxiety were more than 32% to 104% (central estimate 64%) more likely to die than corresponding individuals infected with previously circulating variants. https://t.co/OVh6zrTRcP
– Andrew Longhurst (@a_longhurst) March 11, 2021
Community tests tend to address more low-risk cases, but the researchers said that if the results could be generalized to other populations, the variant “has the potential to cause significant additional mortality compared to previously circulating variants”.
Simon Clarke, associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said the increased mortality from its faster spread meant that “this version of the virus poses a significant challenge to healthcare systems and policy makers.
“It also makes it even more important that people are vaccinated when they are called,” he added.
Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow at Global Health, University of Southampton, said the results revealed the dangers of allowing the virus to spread widely.
“The more COVID-19 there is, the greater the chance that a new variant of concern will emerge,” he said, adding that this included the possibility of variants that could affect vaccination.
While most vaccine manufacturers have said that evidence shows that vaccinations that have already been developed are effective against the variant that emerged from the UK, other variants such as the one that spread in South Africa have mutations that have led to concerns that they could escape the immune response.