UK Coronavirus Variant Associated With Higher Viral Loads

By Reuters Staff

December 29, 2020

(Reuters) - The highly infectious variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus that has been circulating in the UK is linked with higher loads of virus in the blood, new research suggests.

Around 35% of patients infected by the variant form seem to have very high levels of virus in their samples, compared to 10% of patients without the variant, study leader Michael Kidd of Public Health England and Birmingham University told Reuters.

Higher viral loads are known to be linked with worse COVID-19 outcomes.

Kidd's team knew from previous work that the variant form of the virus shows up somewhat differently on PCR tests for diagnosing COVID-19. That difference allowed them to review data collected since September from tests conducted at the Birmingham Turnkey Lab as part of the UK government 'Test & Trace' scheme and compare them to other COVID-19 patients.

The finding of higher viral loads with the new variant, reported on medRxiv ahead of peer review, "needs confirming or refuting by other colleagues who can also analyze their data," Kidd told Reuters. If confirmed, he said, his team hopes the observation will spur scientists to investigate how this particular variant virus replicates more efficiently in infected patients.

SOURCE: medRxiv, online December 27, 2020.