Covid strain that emerged in Britain may be less deadly than feared

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UK flag is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration photo taken March 16, 2021. Picture taken March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The covid-19 variant that emerged in the U.K. and became the dominant strain in the U.S. isn’t as deadly as earlier research indicated, although it’s confirmed to be faster-spreading than other versions, according to a study.

Among 339 patients with the coronavirus, 36% of those infected with the B.1.1.7 strain that arose in the U.K. became severely ill or died, according to research published Monday in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, compared with 38% of those who had non-B.1.1.7 infections.

“We’re not saying it’s nothing, but it’s not worse in terms of outcome in our study, in our setting,” said Eleni Nastouli, a co-author of the study and an associate professor at University College London. She noted that the study differed from some earlier research, looking at patients in hospitals, rather than in the community, and making precise identifications of variants with whole-genome sequencing.

Earlier data released by a U.K. advisory group and cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that B.1.1.7 might be as much as a third more deadly than other variants of the virus. Those findings added to concerns about mutants that have shown some ability to spread more quickly. Other variants appear to be able to avoid the protection conferred by vaccines.

In the U.S., rapid circulation of the B.1.1.7 variant has driven up cases in Michigan, a national hot spot, adding to concerns about a possible pandemic resurgence. While Governor Gretchen Whitmer has asked for more vaccine doses to help stem that outbreak, CDC head Rochelle Walensky said supplies can’t be diverted from one state to another. She urged wider shutdowns of public places and events.

The Lancet study looked at patients admitted to London hospitals in November and December. A separate study of the fast-spreading variant in the Lancet Public Health journal found no evidence that it altered symptoms or the likelihood of experiencing long covid, which was defined as persistent symptoms for more than 28 days.

The U.K. variant isn’t the only one sowing concern as mutants that emerged in South Africa and Brazil also appear to cause more contagion, threatening countries’ ability to stem the pandemic even as they roll out vaccination campaigns. Drugmakers are now racing to bolster their existing vaccines against new variants

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