The mutant strain of the coronavirus is 70% more contagious than the original because it replicates faster in the throat, scientists believe.
A study by Public Health England and the University of Birmingham found that swabs taken from the nose and throat of Covid-19 patients with the latest strain, known as B117, had ‘high viral loads’ compared to samples taken from patients suffering from the original strain.
Higher levels of Covid have been detected in material collected on swabs from patients with the B117 variant, suggesting a more severe case of the virus and evidence that the virus is more easily transmitted.
Michael Kidd, who is leading the study, told the Mirror the results could help explain how the variant multiplies in each person they infect, but said it was “difficult to determine” why the virus was spreading as quickly as it is.
Higher levels of Covid have been detected in material collected on swabs from patients with the B117 variant. A health worker takes a nasal swab in Radovljica, Slovenia, January 5, 2021
The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, says: “It is clear that the higher viral loads inferred from the samples [of the new variant, indicated with an undetectable viral S-gene target] could determine the infectious nature of subjects, and therefore the ability of the virus to be transmitted.
He added that the samples of the new variant “had seen an increase in relative viral load of 10 to 1,000 times” compared to samples of the original virus.
However, the study claims that it is unable to place the reason for the increased transmission entirely on the new variant, due to other factors that could spread the virus more quickly, including “human behavioral factors.” .
The new variant of the virus, which has a mutated “spike” protein on the outside, which allows it to better invade the body, was announced in November.
The study added that the samples of the new variant “had seen a relative viral load increase of 10 to 1000 times”
It was traced to someone in Kent in September, which is considered the first case in the world.
It has since spread around the world and across Britain, causing coronavirus infections to rise in the UK until 2021.
Scientists at the London School of Hygiene warned in December that the variant could have a transmission rate so much higher than its predecessor that even lockdowns could not stop it more than doubling the death toll by June.
Encouragingly, virologists and public health experts believe that vaccines made by companies like AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna will still be effective against the new variant of the coronavirus.
The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, told the public this week that scientists have identified the 22 changes in the genetic code of varian that make it more heritable.
He added: “But as far as we can see, that doesn’t make it hidden from the immune system, so if you’ve ever had an infection the evidence is that you’re probably neutralizing this virus as well. The wait is the same for the vaccine.