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Report: COVID variant from UK 'likely' more lethal, could become dominant strain in America by March


'We should probably prepare for this being the predominant lineage in most places in the United States by March'

BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

British scientists believe that a coronavirus variant spreading throughout the United Kingdom is more lethal than the original COVID-19 strain.

Even more troubling, scientists believe the deadlier variant may become the dominant virus strain in the United States by March.

What are the details?

Government scientists in the U.K. revealed last week the viral variant, known as B.1.1.7, is "likely" responsible for an increased risk of hospitalization and death, the New York Times reported.

The variant has been reported in at least 82 different countries.

More from the Times:

The reasons for an elevated death rate are not entirely clear. Some evidence suggests that people infected with the variant may have higher viral loads, a feature that could not only make the virus more contagious but also potentially undermine the effectiveness of certain treatments. ...

But scientists are also trying to understand how much of the increased risk of death may stem from the propensity of the variant to spread very easily through settings like nursing homes, where people are already vulnerable.

Overall, scientists have estimated the variant is spreading 35% to 45% quicker than the original strain in the U.S. and is possibly 30% to as high as 70% more lethal, Axios noted.

However, Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, warned there remain "several limitations" with the results of the latest study by U.K. government experts.

Cevik told the Times "there are other explanations of this increased severity," citing the variant being able to "transmit disproportionately in settings with frailer people," like nursing homes.

Indeed, the study "struggled to account for the presence of underlying illnesses in people infected with the new variant, and for whether the cases originated in nursing homes," according to the Times.

US dominance by March?

Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute who co-authored a U.S.-based study on the variant, predicted it would become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March if it spreads here at the same rate that it has in the U.K.

"We should probably prepare for this being the predominant lineage in most places in the United States by March," she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new warnings about the variant last month.

"I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks," Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC, said. "We're sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel."

Fortunately, Pfizer and Moderna have said their COVID-19 vaccines are effective against variants.

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