Early analysis of a potential link between viral load and the N501Y mutation in the SARS-COV-2 spike protein
Golubchik T., Lythgoe K., Hall M., Ferretti L., Fryer H., MacIntyre-Cockett G., de Cesare M., Trebes A., Piazza P., Buck D., Todd J., Fraser C., Bonsall D., The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium None.
A new variant of SARS-CoV-2 has emerged which is increasing in frequency, primarily in the South East of England (lineage B.1.1.7 ( 1 ); VUI-202012/01). One potential hypothesis is that infection with the new variant results in higher viral loads, which in turn may make the virus more transmissible. We found higher (sequence derived) viral loads in samples from individuals infected with the new variant with median inferred viral loads were three-fold higher in individuals with the new variant. Most of the new variants were sampled in Kent and Greater London. We observed higher viral loads in Kent compared to Greater London for both the new variant and other circulating lineages. Outside Greater London, the variant has higher viral loads, whereas within Greater London, the new variant does not have significantly higher viral loads compared to other circulating lineages. Higher variant viral loads outside Greater London could be due to demographic effects, such as a faster variant growth rate compared to other lineages or concentration in particular age-groups. However, our analysis does not exclude a causal link between infection with the new variant and higher viral loads. This is a preliminary analysis and further work is needed to investigate any potential causal link between infection with this new variant and higher viral loads, and whether this results in higher transmissibility, severity of infection, or affects relative rates of symptomatic and asymptomatic infection Document Description and Purpose This is an updated report submitted to NERVTAG in December 2020 as part of urgent investigations into the new variant of SARS-COV-2 (VUI-202012/01). It makes full use of (and is restricted to) all sequence data and associated metadata available to us at the time this original report was submitted and remains provisional. Under normal circumstances more genomes and metadata would be obtained and included before making this report public. We will update this preprint when more genomes and metadata are available and before submitting for peer review.