The coronavirus variant B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, is associated with an estimated 64% higher risk of dying from Covid-19, suggests new research published in a peer-reviewed journal.
A sample of people in the UK infected with the variant appeared to be between 32% and 104% — so around a probable 64% — more likely to die than those infected with the previously circulating variants, according to the study published in the medical journal the BMJ on Wednesday.
The variant was originally found to be more easily transmissible and the new data support claims from UK officials, based on preliminary data, that the variant may be more deadly, as well.
The researchers, from various institutions in the UK, analyzed data on more than 100,000 patients who tested positive for Covid-19 between October through January, and were followed up with until mid-February. The researchers took a close look at whose tests detected the variant compared with those from previously circulating variants.
The study showed that the new variant was associated with 227 deaths in a sample of 54,906 patients — compared with 141 deaths among the same number of patients infected with previous strains.
"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, lead author of the study from the University of Exeter in the UK, said in a news release on Wednesday.
More research is needed to determine whether similar findings would emerge among more patients from other parts of the world.
"The variant of concern, in addition to being more transmissible, seems to be more lethal," the researchers wrote in their study. "We expect this to be associated with changes in its phenotypic properties because of multiple genetic mutations, and we see no reason why this finding would be specific to the UK."