T

he coronavirus variant first detected in Kent and now dominant in the UK and a number of other countries, is more transmissible but does not increase disease severity, research has suggested.

Two studies found no evidence that people with the B117 variant have worse symptoms or a heightened risk of developing long Covid then those with a different strain.

However, viral load and the reproduction (R) number were higher for B117, adding to growing evidence that it is more transmissible than the first strain detected in Wuhan China in December 2019, the research indicates.

One observational study of patients in London hospitals suggested the variant is not associated with more severe illness and death, but appears to lead to higher viral load.

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

HEALTH Coronavirus / PA Graphics

Authors of both studies acknowledged the findings differ from some other studies exploring the severity of the variant, and called for more research.

The emergence of variants has raised concerns about whether they could spread easily and be more deadly, and that vaccines might be less effective against them.

Findings from the new studies, conducted between September and December when B117 emerged and started to spread across parts of England, provide insights into its characteristics that will help inform public health, clinical and research responses to this and other variants.

A paper in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal is a whole-genome sequencing and cohort study involving coronavirus patients admitted to University College London Hospital and North Middlesex University Hospital between November 9 and December 20.

The authors compared illness severity in people with and without B117 and calculated viral load.

Among 341 patients who had their test swabs sequenced, 58% (198 out of 341) had B117 and 42% (143 out of 341) had a non-B117 infection.

University College Hospital in London. / PA Wire

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