British scientists have uncovered a grim finding: the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus, known colloquially as the "UK variant," is one of the deadliest strains yet.
The UK variant is "associated with an increased risk of hospitalization and death," according to a new meta-analysis of existing research released by the British government, and it's also more infectious than previous strains.
The New York Times reports that it’s not clear why it’s deadlier, though some evidence points to elevated viral loads among patients who catch it. This could cause the virus to not only be more contagious but also render some treatments ineffective. In sum, researchers believe the new variant is a whopping 30 to 50 percent more infectious — and some believe it's even more infectious than that.
"This has been quite catastrophic in terms of mortality," Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist and adviser to the British government, told NYT. "And that’s a result of both the increased transmissibility, and the increased lethality."
There is a small bit of cold comfort. Though the scientists believe that the variant is probably deadlier, they say they have only a 55 to 75 percent confidence in the results.
"I think these results are possibly genuine," Dr. Muge Civic, an infectious disease researcher and science communicator at the University of St. Andrews, told NYT, "although there are still several limitations and we need to understand what causes it."
So far the B.1.1.7 variant has been recorded in 82 countries, with the largest concentrations in the United Kingdom, Denmark, and the United States. Since it spreads more easily, there is some fear that it could soon become the dominant strain in the US.
Needless to say, consensus expert recommendations are still effective against the new strain, including maintaining social distancing as well as wearing two masks when you go out instead of one.
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READ MORE: U.K. Virus Variant Is Probably Deadlier, Scientists Say [The New York Times]