UK variant more transmissible, but does not increase Covid severity: Lancet studies

New Delhi, April 13

The novel coronavirus variant first identified in the UK is not associated with more severe illness and death, but appears to lead to higher viral load which makes it more transmissible, suggests an observational study.

The study of patients in London hospitals is consistent with emerging evidence that this lineage is more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain.

A separate observational study using data logged by 37,000 UK users of a self-reporting COVID-19 symptom app found no evidence that the B.1.1.7. variant altered symptoms or likelihood of experiencing long COVID.

Authors of both studies acknowledge that these findings differ from some other studies exploring the severity of the B.1.1.7. variant and call for more research and ongoing monitoring of COVID-19 variants.

The studies, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases and The Lancet Public Health, found no evidence that people with the B.1.1.7. variant experience worse symptoms or a heightened risk of developing long COVID compared with those infected with a different COVID-19 strain.

However, viral load and R number — the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to — were higher for B.1.1.7., adding to growing evidence that it is more transmissible than the first strain detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

The emergence of variants has raised concerns that they could spread more easily and be more deadly, and that vaccines developed based on the original strain might be less effective against them.