What is the IHU variant of COVID-19 detected in France? 

Amid the Omicron scare, a new variant of COVID-19-- sub-lineage B.1.640.2 or IHU-- has been detected in France. The variant is reported to have undergone more mutations than Omicron. Read more about the IHU variant of COVID-19 below.
Updated: Jan 5, 2022 11:41 IST
What is the IHU variant of COVID-19 detected in France? 
What is the IHU variant of COVID-19 detected in France? 

IHU Variant of COVID-19: Amid the Omicron scare, a new variant of COVID-19-- sub-lineage B.1.640.2 or IHU-- has been detected in France. The variant is reported to have undergone 46 mutations and harbors both N501Y and E484K substitutions in the spike protein. 

The variant has probably originated in the African country Cameroon but has not yet been identified in other countries. So far, 12 cases have been reported near Marseilles.

The variant has not yet been labeled as a Variant of Concern (VoC) by the WHO. However, the B.1.640 was classified as a Variant Under Monitoring by the World Health Organization in November 2021. 

"The mutation set and phylogenetic position of the genomes obtained here indicate based on our previous definition a new variant we named IHU," the authors of the study said.

Also Read | SARS-CoV-2 Variants List: How many variants of COVID-19 are there in the world?

First Case of IHU

The study was posted on the preprint repository MedRxiv on 29 December 2021 by the researchers from University Hospital Institutes. The genomes were obtained by next-generation sequencing with Oxford Nanopore Technologies on GridION instruments.

It highlighted that the first case was an adult who was diagnosed positive by RTPCR performed in a laboratory on a nasopharyngeal sample collected in mid-November last year. The individual returned from a trip to Cameroon. 

Is IHU more infectious than Omicron?

The yet-to-be-peer-reviewed study stated that the new strain has more mutations than Omicron. It further states that it is too early to speculate about virological features. 

According to the study, the IHU variant of COVID-19 has undergone 46 mutations and 37 deletions. This has resulted in 30 amino acid substitutions and 12 deletions. Of these, fourteen amino acid substitutions, including N501Y and E484K, and nine deletions are located in the spike protein.

This genotype pattern led to creating a new Pangolin lineage named B.1.640.2, which is a phylogenetic sister group to the old B.1.640 lineage renamed B.1.640.1. Both lineages differ by 25 nucleotide substitutions and 33 deletions. 

Philippe Colson, from IHU Mediterranee Infection, Marseille  stated, "For twelve SARS-CoV-positive patients living in the same geographical area of southeastern France, qPCR testing that screen for variant-associated mutations showed an atypical combination."

"What makes a variant more well-known and dangerous is its ability to multiply because of the number of mutations it has in relation to the original virus," Epidemiologist Feigl-Ding said in a Twitter thread. 

"This is when it becomes a "variant of concern" - like Omicron, which is more contagious and more past immunity evasive. It remains to be seen in which category this new variant will fall," he added. 

Will the vaccines work against the new COVID-19 strain?

The vaccines which are currently in use are targeted at the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which the virus uses to enter and infect the cells. While there are fears of greater vaccine resistance, the variant does not appear to be spreading rapidly. 

Presently, countries across the world are battling with the Omicron variant which was first identified in South Africa and Botswana in November 2021. The Variant of Concern (VoC) has since then spread to over 100 countries.

Also Read | Omicron Symptoms: What are the symptoms of the Omicron virus strain?

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