Serial interval of COVID-19 and the effect of Variant B.1.1.7: Analyses from prospective community cohort study (Virus Watch)

on behalf of Virus Watch Collaborative

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Introduction: Increased transmissibility of B.1.1.7 variant of concern (VOC) in the UK may explain its rapid emergence and global spread. We analysed data from putative household infector - infectee pairs in the Virus Watch Community cohort study to assess the serial interval of COVID-19 and whether this was affected by emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant. Methods: The Virus Watch study is an online, prospective, community cohort study following up entire households in England and Wales during the COVID-19 pandemic. Putative household infector-infectee pairs were identified where more than one person in the household had a positive swab matched to an illness episode. Data on whether or not individual infections were caused by the B.1.1.7 variant were not available. We therefore developed a classification system based on the percentage of cases estimated to be due to B.1.1.7 in national surveillance data for different English regions and study weeks. Results: Out of 24,887 illnesses reported, 915 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and 186 likely 'infector-infectee' pairs in 186 households amongst 372 individuals were identified. The mean COVID-19 serial interval was 3.18 (95%CI: 2.55 - 3.81) days. There was no significant difference (p=0.267) between the mean serial interval for VOC hotspots (mean = 3.64 days, (95%CI: 2.55 - 4.73)) days and non-VOC hotspots, (mean = 2.72 days, (95%CI: 1.48 - 3.96)). Conclusions: Our estimates of the average serial interval of COVID-19 are broadly similar to estimates from previous studies and we find no evidence that B.1.1.7 is associated with a change in serial intervals. Alternative explanations such as increased viral load, longer period of viral shedding or improved receptor binding may instead explain the increased transmissibility and rapid spread and should undergo further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number224
JournalWellcome Open Research
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Geismar C et al.


  • B.1.1.7
  • COVID-19
  • Epidemiology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Serial interval
  • UK
  • Variant of concern


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