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April 13, 2021 -- The B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, which was first identified in the U.K. last year, doesn’t cause more severe disease in hospitalized patients, according to a new study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases on Monday.

Among a group of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Britain, there appeared to be no difference in the risks of severe disease, death or other outcomes in patients with B.1.1.7 as compared to other variants.

“Our data, within the context and limitations of a real-world study, provide initial reassurance that severity in hospitalized patients with B.1.1.7 is not markedly different from severity in those without,” the researchers wrote.

The research team analyzed a group of 496 COVID-19 patients who were admitted to British hospitals in November and December 2020, including 198 patients with the B.1.1.7 variant. Among those, 72 patients had severe disease, and 53 of 141 patients with a different variant had severe disease. In addition, 31 patients with B.1.1.7 died, and 24 patients in the non-B.1.1.7 group died. Those who had severe disease or died were older and more likely to have underlying conditions.

Although the research team didn’t find a significant difference in severe disease or death in the B.1.1.7 patients, they did find a higher viral load, which indicates higher transmissibility. The study supports previous research that the B.1.1.7 strain is more contagious, the researchers wrote, and could be a concern as countries pull back on COVID-19 safety protocols.

“The group with B.1.1.7 were younger overall, with fewer comorbidities, and were more likely to be of an ethnic minority group than those with non-B.1.1.7,” the researchers wrote.

The strain has become the most common variant in the U.S., according to the CDC, representing about 27% of the COVID-19 cases reported across the nation. The U.S. has reported more than 20,900 B.1.1.7 cases, according to the latest CDC tally updated on Saturday.

In a separate study published in The Lancet Public Health on Monday, researchers concluded that COVID-19 vaccines will likely be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant. They found that there wasn’t a significant increase in reinfection rates as compared with other variants.

The research team analyzed data from U.K. patients who reported nearly 37,000 positive COVID-19 tests in the COVID Symptom Study app between September and December 2020. App users reported 249 reinfections, and there was “no evidence” that the frequency of reinfections was higher for those with B.1.1.7, the researchers wrote.

“This might mean that, if adequate immunity is built during the first infection, it might be sufficient to protect against reinfection in the presence of the B.1.1.7 variant,” they wrote. “Ultimately, this is a positive sign that the immunity built through vaccination against pre-existing variants could also be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant.”

Show Sources

The Lancet Infectious Diseases: “Genomic characteristics and clinical effect of the emergent SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 lineage in London, UK; a whole-genome sequencing and hospital-based cohort study.”

CDC: “COVID Data Tracker: Variant Proportions,” “US COVID-19 Cases Caused by Variants.”

The Lancet Public Health: “Changes in symptomatology, reinfection, and transmissibility associated with the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7: an ecological study.”

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