Coronavirus

Covid Variant First Found in the U.K. Appears to Be 64% More Deadly Than Earlier Strains, Study Finds

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  • The highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K. is associated with a 64% higher risk of dying from Covid-19 than earlier strains, according to a new study.
  • Researchers in the U.K. analyzed data from more than 100,000 patients, comparing death rates among people infected with B.1.1.7 and those infected with other previously circulating strains.
  • The researchers said people infected with B.1.1.7 were between 32% and 104% more likely to die.

The highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K. is associated with a 64% higher risk of dying from Covid-19 than earlier strains, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal.

Researchers at the University of Exeter and the University of Bristol analyzed data from more than 100,000 patients in the U.K. between Oct. 1 and Jan. 28. They compared death rates among people infected with B.1.1.7, the variant first found in the U.K., and those infected with other previously circulating strains.

The researchers, who published their findings Wednesday, said people infected with B.1.1.7 were between 32% and 104% more likely to die. That translates to a central estimate of 64%, they said, adding the "absolute risk of death in this largely unvaccinated population remains low."

"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," Robert Challen, the study's lead author at Exeter, said in a press release.

The researchers said B.1.1.7 led to 227 deaths in a sample of 54,906 patients. That compares with 141 deaths in roughly the same number of patients who were infected with other strains.

They said with the variant already detected in more than 50 countries worldwide, "the analysis provides crucial information to governments and health officials to help prevent its spread."

The U.K. identified B.1.1.7, which appears to spread more easily and quickly than other strains, in fall 2020. It has since spread to other parts of the globe, including the U.S., which has identified 3,283 cases as of Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. health officials say they are working to identify more cases.

The new study comes about two months after a CDC study warned that B.1.1.7 could become the dominant strain in the United States. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told JAMA on Feb. 17 that the B.1.1.7 variant is thought to be roughly 50% more transmissible and early data indicates it could be up to 50% more virulent, or deadly.

New variants are especially a concern for public health officials as they could become more resistant to antibody treatments and vaccines. Top health officials including White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci are urging Americans to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, saying the virus can't mutate if it can't infect hosts and replicate.

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