If You're Under This Age, You're More Likely to Get the New COVID Strain
This could explain why the recently discovered variation of the virus might be more contagious.
A new strain of the coronavirus has been causing concern in the U.K., with experts noting it could potentially be making the virus 70 percent more contagious than previous strains. Medical experts and health officials are now trying to weigh all of the possible implications of the new strain, and while most are confident that it shouldn't lower the effectiveness of the vaccine or increase mortality rates, there may be some notable differences, including the age range of who is affected. The latest data in the U.K. suggests that the new COVID strain might be particularly contagious among children under the age of 15. Read on to see what experts think this means in terms of the future of the pandemic, and for more on signs that you might be sick, check out This Is How to Tell If Your Upset Stomach Is COVID, Doctors Say.
During a press conference on Dec. 21, scientists advising the British government announced that there were significant differences between the previous strain of the virus and the new variant that is currently responsible for 60 percent of cases in London and the southeastern region of England. "There is a hint that it has a higher propensity to infect children," Neil Ferguson, PhD, infectious disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London and member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), told reporters.
Ferguson explained that reported case data had shown an overall shift in age demographics during the lockdown that took place in England over the beginning of December—a time when schools were notably kept open. Figures showed that while adults were observing stay-at-home orders, children who were still exposed to others their own age in classrooms saw a spike in cases, which suggests that the virus may have adapted to spreading amongst younger hosts, The Independent reports.
"We haven't established any sort of causality on that, but we can see it in the data," Ferguson explained. "We will need to gather more data to see how it behaves going forward. But what we've seen over the course of a five- or six-week period is consistently the proportion of pillar two cases for the variant in under-15s was statistically significantly higher than the non-variant virus."
Discovery of the likely highly contagious nature of the new strain has led British officials to order restrictions on holiday celebrations, as well as other countries imposing travel bans on visitors from the U.K. But while there's still more research to be done, scientists already have some theories as to what the newest version of the novel coronavirus might hold. Read on to see what this could mean for the next phase of the pandemic, and for more on the latest with the new strain, check out A White House Official Just Gave This Warning About the New COVID Mutation.
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It's likely to be more contagious.
During a government press conference on Dec. 19, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that "although there's considerable uncertainty, it may be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the old variant, the original version of the disease. This is early data and it's subject to review."
But while some initial reports pointed to the fact that computer models had established this figure, scientists soon added their support to the theory. "We now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the U.K.," Peter Horby, PhD, professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford University and chair of NERVTAG, said during the Dec. 21 press briefing. And for more on how COVID is spreading lately, check out Almost All COVID Transmission Is Happening in These 5 Places, Doctor Says.
It's likely not any deadlier.
While the strain may spread more easily, England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty had some positive news during the government press conference, saying that at the present time "there is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate… although urgent work is underway to confirm this."
During a Dec. 20 appearance on Face the Nation, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, confirmed that the new strain "is probably not more lethal." Gottlieb explained the new COVID strain "doesn't seem to be any more virulent, any more dangerous than run-of-the-mill COVID," although he also admitted there's still more research to be done. And for more COVID symptoms that could be easily ignored, be aware of How to Tell If Your Back Pain Is COVID, Doctors Say.
It shouldn't affect the efficacy of the vaccine.
Despite subtle changes to the genetic makeup of the novel coronavirus, Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance stressed at the press conference that the currently available vaccines are still effective against this new variant.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, said on Face the Nation on Sunday that he has the same confidence. "Right now, we have no indications that it is going to hurt our ability to continue vaccinating people," he said. And for more on the vaccine, check out If You Did This in 2020, You Can Get Your COVID Vaccine Sooner.
The virus will continue to mutate.
Even though the news of a new more contagious strain of the novel coronavirus comes as a shock to many, experts are quick to point out that mutations are common for all viruses. "I don't think there should be any reason for alarm right now," Admiral Brett Giroir, MD, the White House COVID-19 testing czar, said on ABC News' The Week on Dec. 20. "We continue to watch. … But again, viruses mutate, over 4,000 mutations that we've seen so far in this virus, and it's still acting essentially like COVID-19." And for more regular COVID updates delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
It's already abroad.
Despite early efforts to contain the new strain, it might be too late to keep it from spreading outside of the U.K. "We think it may be in other countries as well," Vallance told reporters on Dec. 19. According to the World Health Organization, the new strain has also made its way to Australia, Denmark, and the Netherlands, and Italy has reported instances, too. And for more symptoms to be aware of as the virus spreads, check out If Your Symptoms Appear in This Order, You May Have Severe COVID.