B.1.1.7 variant and healthcare workers’ travel worry

The emergence of the novel coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), led to a global pandemic in 2020. The RNA virus mutated over time, and multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 are now circulating globally. So far, several thousands of people have been reportedly infected with the B.1.1.7 variant globally. One of the most significant mutations in this variant is the N501Y gene coding for the spike S protein, which helps the virus attach to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors on the host cell surface.

The COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium, which performs random sequencing of positive COVID-19 samples in the UK, was the first to identify the B.1.1.7 lineage. This new variant is said to have first emerged in September 2020 in the UK. Over 3,000 cases of the new variant have been reported in the UK as of December 26, 2020. This new mutant has been reported to have a higher transmission rate than the original virus and has become one of the main circulating variants in many parts of the UK.

The new variant has since spread to many other countries globally, including Canada and the United States. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) recommendations, residents in the affected areas should restrict movement and all kinds of travel, including international travel. The UK and several countries have imposed travel restrictions to limit the spread of the new variant.

Assessing travel-related anxiety in healthcare workers associated with new SARS-CoV-2 variants

Recently a team of researchers from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States assessed travel-related anxiety in healthcare workers (HCWs) considering the emergence of new variants caused by SARS-CoV-2 mutations. The study is published on the preprint server, medRxiv*.

As part of the study, an online, cross-sectional questionnaire was sent to HCWs between December 21, 2020, and January 7, 2021. The knowledge and awareness of HCWs about the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 lineage, their associated travel-related anxiety, and the generalized anxiety disorder (GAD-7) score were the outcome variables assessed.

HCWs’ sources of information about the B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 mutant variant
HCWs’ sources of information about the B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 mutant variant

Most HCWs were aware of the emergence of the new variant and that it is more infectious

Out of the 1,058 HCWs who completed the online survey, 66.5% were female, and 59.0% were nurses. 9.0% of these HCWs indicated that they had previously contracted COVID-19 themselves. Most of the HCWs (97.3%) were aware of the emergence of the new B.1.1.7 variant and 73.8% of the HCWs were aware that the B.1.1.7 lineage is more infectious. However, 78.0% of HCWs thought the new variant causes more severe disease, and only 50.0% of the HCWs knew that currently available COVID-19 vaccines effectively prevent it.

Around 66.7% of HCWs had not registered to receive the current COVID-19 vaccine. The most common information source about the new variant for HCWs was social media platforms (67%), and this subgroup was considerably more worried about traveling.

Nurses were more worried about travel than physicians (P=0.001) and those who had not traveled in the past three months and those who had not registered for or received the COVID-19 vaccine were also more worried (P = 0.037 and P < 0.001, respectively).

Utilization of official social media platforms and targeted vaccine campaigns may help reduce travel-related anxiety among HCWs

To summarize, based on the findings, most HCWs were aware of the emergence of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 and had substantial travel-related anxiety. Increased worry was found among HCWs whose primary source of information was social media, those who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine, and those with greater GAD-7 scores.

The authors believe that the utilization of official social media platforms may improve the dissemination of accurate information among HCWs about the evolving mutations and new variants of SARS-CoV-2. According to the authors, more targeted vaccine campaigns will assure HCWs about the efficacy of the current COVID-19 vaccines toward new variants of SARS-CoV-2.

“HCWs should abstain from international travel for leisure to decrease the risk of introducing new variants to their health care facilities when they return.”

*Important Notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
Susha Cheriyedath

Written by

Susha Cheriyedath

Susha has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in Chemistry and Master of Science (M.Sc) degree in Biochemistry from the University of Calicut, India. She always had a keen interest in medical and health science. As part of her masters degree, she specialized in Biochemistry, with an emphasis on Microbiology, Physiology, Biotechnology, and Nutrition. In her spare time, she loves to cook up a storm in the kitchen with her super-messy baking experiments.

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