The B117 coronavirus variant first detected in the UK—now the most common strain in the US—has been tentatively associated with high transmissibility, more severe illness, and a greater risk of death. But a new study appears to contradict some of those findings. Published Monday in Lancet Infectious Diseases, it finds hospitalized patients infected with the strain didn't suffer more severe symptoms or a greater risk of death than those hospitalized with another strain. The variant believed to have emerged in England in September was, however, found to be more contagious than original strains, reports NPR. Researchers collected samples from 341 patients at two London hospitals between Nov. 9 and Dec. 20. This revealed 58% were infected with the B117 variant and 42% were infected with another strain.
Patients with the B117 variant had more virus in their bodies, suggesting the strain is indeed more contagious, notes the Wall Street Journal. But the severity of symptoms was the same across both groups. "If you need hospitalization, you're not worse with this variant compared to the previous virus strain," senior author Eleni Nastouli of University College London concludes. Nicholas Davies of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-authored a March study that found the B117 variant carried a 55% higher risk of death than pre-existing variants, says the new study doesn't necessarily contradict his own as it focuses on hospitalized patients. He argues the strain is still "more likely to land you in the hospital," as a Danish study has found. Other experts say more research is needed for consensus. (Tuesday brought bad news on the J&J vaccine.)