By Daniel R. Lucey MD, MPH, FIDSA
On Friday (Jan.22) the United Kingdom government website posted a paper by Peter Horby and eight co-authors from the “New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG)” concluding for the first time that “there is a realistic probability that infection with VOC B.1.1.7 is associated with an increased risk of death compared to infection with non-VOC viruses.” (“VOC” = “Variant of Concern”).
This news is the first time that an increased risk of death has been reported for any of the variant viruses i.e., this one, the one initially reported in South Africa (501Y.V2), the one initially reported in northern Brazil (P.1.), and the more recent one reported last week from California (CAL.20C).
This variant B.1.1.7 has been reported in over 50 nations. Earlier this month the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that this variant could become the predominant virus in the U.S. by this March. This variant has already been reported to be more contagious in the UK.
As noted in this official UK document, the term “realistic probability” corresponds to 40%-50% “likelihood or confidence” (green color) in the color-coded “probability yardstick” figure below.
The summary of the paper is provided below, given the significance of this interim finding of increased mortality risk. As stated below analyses were presented by renowned institutions e.g., the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London, University of Exeter, and Public Health England.
The near-future update of these data is highly anticipated.
Daniel Lucey, M.D. MPH, FIDSA, FACP, Clinical Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, Infectious Disease adjunct Professor at Georgetown Medical Center, senior scholar at Georgetown Law, Anthropology Research Associate at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America Global Health Committee. He served as a volunteer to outbreaks overseas including hands-on Ebola patient care in Sierra Leone and Liberia (Doctors without Borders) 2014, MERS 2013, SARS 2003, as well as HIV, H5N1, Zika, yellow Fever, and pneumonic plague 2017 (with WHO/USAID/CDC). Since Jan. 6, 2020 he has contributed over 75 posts to Science Speaks on COVID-19 and traveled to China in February 2020. He initially proposed, then fundraised and helped design the content for 2018-2022 Smithsonian Exhibition on Epidemics due to zoonotic viruses. From 1982-1988 he trained at University of California San Francisco and Harvard and was an attending physician at the NIH (NIAID) in the 1990s while in the US Public Health Service.