New research announced on Wednesday showed that the UK coronavirus variant now predominant in Israel may be twice as deadly as other variants circulating in the UK, underscoring concerns about how mutations may change the characteristics of the disease.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal and carried out by epidemiologists at the British universities of Bristol and Exeter, found that the strain first found in Kent is between 32 percent and 104% more deadly.
The research showed that this UK variant led to 227 deaths in a sample group of 54,906 patients, which was compared with a closely matched cohort of patients who had other strains. The second group saw 141 deaths.
Participants were all aged 30 or over, and were matched on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, index of multiple deprivation, local authority region and the date they were diagnosed, differing only in the strain of the virus they had contracted.
The study also found that the viral load appeared to be higher for the variant, which could increase disease severity as well as making it easier to contract.
“In the community, death from COVID-19 is still a rare event, but the B117 variant raises the risk,” said the study’s lead author, Robert Challen from the University of Exeter.
The variant is already known to be more contagious than other strains, and its spread in Israel has coincided with an uptick in serious cases among younger people, including pregnant women.
Last month UK government research found the variant could be up to 70% more deadly than previously known strains.
The findings from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, published on the government’s website, build on preliminary research released January 21. The group includes experts from universities and public agencies across the UK.
That report was based on analysis of a dozen studies that found the so-called Kent variant is likely 30% to 70% more deadly than other variants. The studies compared hospitalization and death rates among people infected with the variant and those infected with other variants.
The study was released as the UK continued its successful vaccine rollout. Britain has now given about 35% of its adult population at least one vaccine shot.