UK scientists estimate coronavirus variant could be far more lethal than original strain

Kelsey Vlamis
·2 min read
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People in a Disneyland parking lot in Anaheim, California, waiting to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images
  • UK scientists are becoming increasingly convinced a fast-spreading coronavirus variant is deadlier.

  • The B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the UK, was previously found to be more transmissible.

  • The variant is spreading across the US and has been found in dozens of countries.

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Scientists with the British government now have more evidence that the fast-spreading coronavirus variant that was first detected in the UK is probably deadlier than the original strain.

The scientists released a new assessment Friday that evaluated multiple studies about the variant. They estimated that the strain, known as B.1.1.7, could be 30% to 70% deadlier than the original virus.

The strain had already been found to be more transmissible, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last month that it could also be "associated with a higher degree of mortality."

Read more: What's coming next for COVID-19 vaccines? Here's the latest on 11 leading programs.

The assessment confirmed that concern, but the scientists also said there would need to be more extensive studies conducted on deaths.

The B.1.1.7 variant has been detected in at least 82 countries, according to The New York Times. A study published earlier this month found it was spreading so quickly across the US that the case count involving that strain was doubling about every 10 days.

"These findings show that B.1.1.7 will likely become the dominant variant in many US states by March 2021, leading to further surges of COVID-19 in the country, unless urgent mitigation efforts are immediately implemented," the paper said.

The study also said the B.1.1.7 variant was 35% to 45% more transmissible than other strains spreading in the US. Scientists have also expressed concern that the variant could be developing a mutation that could help it evade vaccines.

It is not clear why the variant might be more deadly. Scientists have suggested that people who become infected with it could have a higher viral load, or more of the virus in their bodies, which is linked to more severe COVID-19.

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