France Detected New Coronavirus Variant 'IHU' With 46 Mutations

No this isn't Groundhog Day.
Ameya Paleja
Coronavirus continues to spew out new variantsNiseriN/iStock

Even as the world is yet to come to terms with the rapid spread of Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant, IHU, with 46 mutations has been detected in France, Independent reported. The World Health Organization (WHO) hasn't yet marked it as a variant under the monitoring (VUM) list, at least as of now. 

It was only over a month ago that we reported the detection of the B.1.1.529 variant that was later christened 'Omicron' by the WHO and is currently the cause of rising infections in many countries across the globe. The IHU variant carries the nomenclature B.1.640.2  was also first noticed around the same time in southern France by the researchers who published their findings in a pre-print paper on MedRxiv.

The paper, which has not undergone reviews by other researchers in the field, describes the first case of the variant as an individual who had completed his COVID vaccination and returned from Cameroon, three days before showing symptoms. PCR tests performed on his samples confirmed that the infection was not due to the Delta variant which was prevalent at the time, but a pattern seen in seven other individuals, including five children (<15 years of age), living within the same geographical area. 

The samples were then sent to Méditerranée Infection University Hospital Institute (IHU) in Marseilles where the researchers performed next-generation sequencing to reveal the newly identified variant.

According to the pre-print paper, the variant has 46 nucleotide substitutions and 37 deletions that led to changes in the amino acid sequence. Fourteen amino acid changes and nine deletions are present on the spike protein prompting the creation of a new lineage B.1.640.2, the researchers wrote in their paper that was made publicly available on December 29 last year. 

Four other samples sourced from individuals living in the same region were positive for this variant, taking the tally to 12 till the end of November. The number is not high to cause concern and not sufficient to get details of how transmissible the variant could be or whether it causes disease of higher severity.

Epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding who was among the first few who alerted the world about Omicron wrote on Twitter about this new variant.

In the Twitter thread, he also pointed out that ICU admission rates in the region of France where the variant was found had increased which could be a cause of concern. However, the new variant would have to be much more transmissible to have a global impact, given that Omicron spreads faster than Delta

The emergence of the new variant after a trip to the West African nation also highlights how little we know about variants circulating in the region and the impact of low vaccination coverage has on controlling the pandemic. 

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