The UK COVID-19 Variant Was Just Declared '61%' More Deadly

It may be more likely to kill within 28 days of contraction.
Brad Bergan

The U.K. variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus was just found to pose a possible 61% higher risk of death to people who contract the virus within 28 days, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

UK COVID-19 variant places a grim 28-day mortality timeline for many

Also known as the B.1.1.7 variant and initially identified in the United Kingdom in October 2020, the new findings — coupled with the British Medical Journal's study from last week that suggested people with the U.K. coronavirus variant had a 64% higher 28-day risk of death among people more than 30 years old — both place a daunting 28-day mortality timeline for most affected populations.

"Crucially, our study limited to individuals tested in the community," wrote the researchers in their study. "However, this restricted focus allows us to capture the combined effect of an altered risk of hospitalization given a positive test and an altered risk of death given hospitalization, while only the latter would be measurable in a study of hospitalized patients only."

The researchers evaluated data from 2,254,263 positive COVID-19 community tests from seven National Health Services regions throughout the U.K. — from Sep. 1, 2020, to Feb. 14, 2021. They found roughly 0.8% (17,452) of cases were fatal, with the researchers using Cox proportional hazard models to estimate the 28-day risk of dying from COVID-19 illness.

However, since only 51.1% of tests saw conclusive S gene target failure (a mutation of B.1.1.7 SGTF) status, the researchers found two notable risks: The first one only applied where the mutation (SGTF) status was known, while the second applied for all cases, where an inverse probability weighting (IPW) enabled the researchers to compensate for gaps in data.

Elderly at greater risk from UK variant of COVID-19

Roughly 4,950 deaths involved in the study were known to have SGTF (mutated) status, or 8.3% of the group's deaths and 9% of the total deaths in the U.K. from COVID-19 illness during the study period. Once scientists adjusted for factors like demographics and testing date, the higher risk of 28-day mortality rate from B.1.1.7 versus other, non-B.1.1.7 COVID-19 strains was 55% among the verified (known to have the SGTF mutation) status group under study, and 61% for the entire group whose COVID-19 data was involved in the study.

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Basing the analysis on the entire group's COVID-19 mortality risk, these findings show a 28-day mortality rate of 0.9% for males aged 55 to 69 — but other age-group combinations showed even higher risks as age increased.

For example, women and men aged 70 to 84 years old showed increased B.1.1.7 mortality rates of 4.4% (which is 1.5% higher compared to other coronavirus strains), and 7.2% (2.5% higher), respectively. Predictably, people aged 85 years and older have an even greater risk of dying from the B.1.1.7 (U.K.) variant of the virus compared to other strains, with rising 6% to 8% — for a mortality rate of 19% to 25%.

Latest COVID-19 study doesn't reflect possible inherent mechanisms of UK variant

The researchers emphasized that only 44 deaths happened for people aged 34 years or younger during the study timeframe, which means B.1.1.7 (U.K.) variant mortality rates for middle-aged people, broadly speaking, is not definitely known.

"Our analysis suggests that B.1.1.7 is not only more transmissible than preexisting SARS-CoV-2 variants, but may also cause more severe illness," wrote the researchers in the new study. However, they stressed that this latest study doesn't evaluate potential mechanisms of the variant — which could alter their interpretation of the study data.

Like the professionals say: the 61% mortality rate within a 28-day timeframe is daunting, but doesn't necessarily reflect the rates in other global communities. Yet, as it stands, all strains of the COVID-19 coronavirus are potentially deadly — and as the U.K. variant continues to spread through Europe amid a second wave and widespread secondary lockdowns, those in other areas like the U.S. should go carefully as public areas and businesses begin to reopen in heavily populated hubs, like New York City.