New coronavirus variant doesn’t cause worse infections or lead to more deaths, study says

LONDON — As millions prepare to receive their coronavirus vaccine, fears are growing of a new variant strain of SARS-CoV-2 detected in the United States and England. This new variant, dubbed B.1.1.7, could be more contagious than previous strains of the coronavirus, but a new report is at least bringing some positivity into 2021. Researchers from Public Health England (PHE) find the variant is not likely to put more patients in the hospital or cause more deaths than other COVID strains.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, B.1.1.7 is responsible for 60 percent of the new infections in London since November. The origin of this variant remains a mystery, but the CDC says B.1.1.7 has several mutations, including one in the receptor binding domain of its spike protein. This is the part of the virus which attaches to cells and cuts its way into them to reproduce.

A recent study by the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases also finds that the new coronavirus variant, which researchers call VOC 202012/01, is 56 percent more contagious than other COVID strains. Despite this, the team from PHE concludes it is not anymore dangerous to patients during the pandemic.

“Preliminary results from the cohort study found no statistically significant difference in hospitalization and 28-day case fatality between cases with the variant (VOC 201212/01) and wild-type comparator cases,” study authors write in the report, Investigation of novel SARS-CoV-2 variant.

No serious differences in the new coronavirus variant

The British study examined 1,769 patients with “wild-type” or common strains of SARS-CoV-2 and 1,769 people with the B.1.1.7 variant. The results reveal no major differences in the age of patients, their ethnicities, and living situations.

Researchers discovered 16 COVID patients (0.9%) with the B.1.1.7 strain had to go to the hospital due to their illness. In comparison, 26 patients (1.5%) with a wild-type strain were hospitalized during the study. Although scientists did not have complete records on patient deaths, the report finds 12 of 1,340 patients with the new variant died — just under one percent. Only 10 patients out of 1,360 died of a wild-type of COVID-19 (0.73%).

Study authors also report that the new coronavirus strain does not seem to raise the risk of contracting the illness a second time.

“There was also no significant difference in the likelihood of reinfection between variant cases and the comparator group,” the report notes.

Only two people who had the B.1.1.7 strain ended up getting sick again within 90 days of their illness. The odds are just as rare among common forms of coronavirus, with only three people getting sick a second time.