Even though it may only have been weeks since a new strain of the novel coronavirus was discovered in the U.K., it’s clear that it’s quickly spreading well beyond British borders, with cases reported in more than 30 countries, including at least three states in the U.S. But as scientists strive to learn everything they can about the variant and what effects it could have on the pandemic, it’s becoming clear who’s most at risk. Aaccording to a new study out of Imperial College London, it appears that young people are more likely to catch the new COVID strain, particularly those under the age of 20. Read on to see what else scientists uncovered, and for more on where the virus is spreading, check out This Is How Bad the COVID Outbreak Is in Your State.
The new research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, used public health data to compare how reported cases have been affected by the spread of the new variant, which is believed to be responsible for the majority of cases throughout London and the southeast of England. Not only did the findings uphold previous theories that the new strain is more transmissible than the current dominant virus, but the scientists also found that younger members of the population were more likely to become infected by the new strain. The authors wrote that there was a clear “shift in the age composition of reported cases, with a larger share of under 20-year-olds among reported [Variant of Concern] VOC than non-VOC cases.”
The study confirms the theory previously put forth by health officials that the new variant was showing signs of infecting a formerly less-affected group. “There is a hint that it has a higher propensity to infect children,” Neil Ferguson, PhD, a scientist at Imperial College and one of the study’s authors, previously told reporters in late December. “What we’ve seen over the course of a five- or six-week period … [is that] the variant in under-15s was statistically significantly higher than the non-variant virus.”
Read on to see how else the new variant is different from (and similar to) the current dominant strain in the U.S., and for more on what’s ahead for the pandemic, check out Dr. Fauci Just Said These 5 Very Scary Words About COVID-19.
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It’s much more contagious than the current dominant variant.
The recently published research on the new strain—which is officially known as the B.1.1.7 variant—confirmed that it is indeed more transmissible than the previous dominant strain of the virus. That means that a person suffering from COVID-19 caused by the B.1.1.7 strain is likely to pass it on to more people, according to Forbes. “The new variant of concern, B.1.1.7, has substantially higher transmissibility than previous SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the U.K.,” Ferguson said. “This will make control more difficult and further accentuates the urgency of rolling out vaccination as quickly as possible.” And for the early symptoms to look out for, check out The Earliest Signs You Have COVID, According to Johns Hopkins.
But it’s not any deadlier.
While the B.1.1.7 variant might spread around more easily than the current dominant strain of the virus, the Imperial College study also confirmed a theory that health officials in the country were initially concerned about. Findings showed that mortality was not increased by the new strain, meaning that patients were no more likely to die if infected by it.
During a Dec. 30 video interview with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Anthony Fauci, MD, explained that the new strain won’t make you any sicker either. “There’s no indication at all that it increases the virulence, and by virulence, I mean the ability to make you sick or kill you. It doesn’t seem to make it more strong in that regard,” he said. And for more on indicators you might have a hard time with the virus, check out If You Have This Blood Type, You’re at a High Risk of Severe COVID.
Current vaccines will still work against the new strain.
As news of the new variant began to dominate headlines, many people became worried that the recently rolled out Moderna and Pfizer COVID vaccines would no longer be able to protect them. Luckily, the new study confirms that the shots already being administered are still effective against the new strain. Fauci also told Newsom that the B.1.1.7 variant “doesn’t seem to evade protection that’s afforded by the antibodies that are introduced by vaccines.” And for more regular COVID updates, sign up for our daily newsletter.
If you’ve already been infected, you’re not likely to catch the new strain.
Similar to vaccines, natural immunity doesn’t appear to have been affected by the new strain of virus. That means anyone who has previously contracted the coronavirus is unlikely to become sick again by the new variant.
“They’ve noted in the U.K. … that people who have been infected [by the previously dominant strain] don’t seem to get re-infected by this [variant], which means that the immunity that’s given to you when you get infected is protective against this particular strain,” Fauci explained to Newsom. And for more signs you might’ve had COVID, check out If You Have This Subtle Symptom, You Might Have Already Had COVID.
You can still protect yourself from being infected in the same ways.
Even though the version of the virus currently circulating through the public may be different, there no reason to stop or change the precautionary measures you’ve been taking since March. “The things we’ve been talking about all along, we just need to make sure we do it,” Fauci told Newsweek on Dec. 29 of the new strain. “Wearing masks, keeping distances, avoiding congregate settings, doing things outdoors more than indoors, washing your hands frequently—those are the things that stop any virus, regardless of whether it mutates or not.” And for more from the NIAID director, check out Dr. Fauci Just Said He’s Worried About This One State.