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IHU variant: new Covid strain with more mutations than Omicron detected in France

Researchers stress it is too early to ‘speculate’ on the severity or transmissibility of the new variant

By
05 January 2022
A

new Covid variant with 46 mutations has been detected in France.

The B.1.640.2 variant, named the “IHU” variant by researchers, was first spotted in southern France and is linked to travel to Cameroon, according to a pre-print study.

Researchers based at the IHU Mediterranee hospital in Marseille said the new variant was linked to a vaccinated man who had recently returned from Cameroon to his home in south-eastern France.

Tweleve people were later identified as having the new variant–five children and seven adults, researchers said.

The new strain has more variations than Omicron, at 46 mutations, several more than Omicron’s 37, according to the study which has not yet been peer reviewed.

According to the study, two already-known spike protein mutations N501Y and E484K are also found in the new IHU variant.

The N501Y mutation was detected in the alpha ‘Kent’ variant which can cause the virus to bind better to human cells.

The E484K mutation can potentially lessen the effectiveness of Covid vaccines.

However, researchers stress: “It is too early to speculate on virological, epidemiological or clinical features of this IHU variant based on these 12 cases”.

They added: “Overall, these observations show once again the unpredictability of the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants and their introduction from abroad, and they exemplify the difficulty to control such introduction and subsequent spread”.

The study also adds that while the variant was first detected in a traveller from Cameroon, this does not mean it originated in Cameroon.

American epidemiologist, Eric Feigl-Ding, said: “There are scores of new variants discovered all the time, but it does not necessarily mean they will be more dangerous”.

The expert, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, added: “It remains to be seen in which category this new variant will fall.”

There are currently five variants designated of ‘concern’ by the World Health Organisation, including both Omicron and Delta.