Enlarge /. During the coronavirus pandemic in New York City on May 17, 2020, people practice social distancing in white circles in Domino Park in Williamsburg.
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According to a new study, the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus is spreading an estimated 50 percent more than previous versions. However, it does not seem to achieve this higher transmissibility by surviving in the air better than other versions of the virus.
In laboratory experiments examining the survival of viruses in man-made aerosolized particles, a B.1.1.7 line virus (first identified in the UK) had roughly the same survival rate as a strain of virus found in Wuhan, China, in January circulated in 2020, according to the study recently published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
For the study, government researchers created aerosolized particles that mimic those spat out from deep inside a person's lungs. The researchers then tested how well the viruses in these particles survived under different temperature, humidity and light conditions.
Just like the Wuhan virus line, the B.1.1.7 virus lost 90 percent of its infectivity after about 6.2 hours in the dark. Under simulated sunlight conditions, the two lost 90 percent of their infectivity in about 11 minutes. The researchers concluded that the viruses "are quickly inactivated in real scenarios by natural sunlight".
The researchers also looked at two other virus variants – one with a mutation associated with increased transmissibility (which is shared in B.1.1.7) and another that has a mutation associated with better ability to be human Infect cells. Both variants performed roughly the same as B.1.1.7 and the Wuhan lineage virus. However, the variants lost 90 percent of their infectivity in about seven to eight minutes in simulated sunlight, a minor but statistically significant difference, according to the researchers.
Overall, the data support what experts have already suspected based on other data. This means that the more transmissible viruses do not spread more easily because they linger longer in the air or can spread further. Instead, the viruses are likely to spread more widely because they either produce more viruses in people's airways – meaning people simply expel more infectious viruses at the same time or over time – and / or the viruses are better able to target cells infect so that fewer virus particles are required. Start an infection (smaller infectious dose). The data also suggest that the masking and current distancing recommendations are still effective in reducing the spread of the more transmissible variants.