A patient is placed in an ambulance outside the Royal London Hospital in London during England’s third national lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Picture date: Wednesday February 17, 2021.
Ian West | PA Pictures | Getty Images
The highly contagious variant of the coronavirus, first identified in the UK, is linked to a 64% higher risk of dying from Covid-19 than previous strains, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal.
Researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Bristol analyzed data from more than 100,000 patients in the UK between October 1 and January 28. They compared the death rates of people infected with B.1.1.7, the variant first found in the UK, and those infected with other previously circulating strains.
The researchers, who released their results on Wednesday, said people infected with B.1.1.7 were between 32% and 104% more likely to die. This corresponds to a central estimate of 64%. The “absolute risk of death in this largely unvaccinated population remains low”.
“Death from COVID-19 is still a rare occurrence in the community, but variant B.1.1.7 increases the risk. Coupled with its ability to spread quickly, B.1.1.7 is a threat that should be taken seriously. “Robert Challen, the lead author of the study in Exeter, said in a press release.
The researchers said B.1.1.7 resulted in 227 deaths in a sample of 54,906 patients. This compares to 141 deaths in roughly the same number of patients infected with other strains.
They said with the variant, which has already been discovered in more than 50 countries around the world, “the analysis provides vital information for governments and health agencies to help prevent its spread.”
The UK identified B.1.1.7 in autumn 2020, which appears to be spreading more easily and faster than other strains. Since then, it has spread to other parts of the world, including the US, which identified 3,283 cases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Tuesday. U.S. health officials say they are working to identify more cases.
The new study comes roughly 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 variant B.1.1.7 is considered to be about 50% more transmissible and early data suggests it could be up to 50% more virulent or deadly.
New variants are particularly a problem for public health officials as they could become more resistant to antibody treatments and vaccines. Senior health officials, including the White House Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anthony Fauci, urge Americans to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The virus cannot mutate if it cannot infect hosts and cannot multiply.