Everything We Know So Far About The New Variant Detected In France

·3-min read
There are fresh concerns about a new Covid variant that has been reported in France (Photo: Chesnot via Getty Images)
There are fresh concerns about a new Covid variant that has been reported in France (Photo: Chesnot via Getty Images)

A new variant has been causing a stir over in France – and no, it’s not Omicron.

Scientists in the neighbouring European nation have identified a new strain of Covid, named IHU.

At least 12 people have been infected by the variant – known scientifically as B.1.640.2 – in the south east of France.

The first case was linked to someone who had recently travelled to west Africa’s Cameroon for three days, before testing positive when they returned to Europe.

The new genome of IHU was discovered by scientists at the IHU Mediterranee Infection back on December 10, but the number of infections linked to it have remained low since.

What’s so different about IHU?

Experts have found a total of 46 mutations in the variant, according to a research paper published on medRxiv, which has not yet been published in an academic journal.

These mutations could make IHU more vaccine resistant, especially as it has the same mutation recorded on the Beta variant.

For comparison, Omicron has around 50 mutations.

The person who was first identified with IHU – according to the authors – was also fully vaccinated, and tested positive after returning to France.

The scientists said in their paper: “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.”

Why aren’t experts worried yet?

There is no indication that IHU will be as infectious as other variants which have swept around the world in the last few years.

The scientists who discovered it said the mutations in IHU’s spike protein did not replicate the pattern of the highly infectious Delta variant.

This protein is how Covid enters human cells, suggesting IHU will not spread as easily as more dominant strains like Delta.

So far, the variant is far from outcompeting Omicron too, which makes up 60% of French cases.

It has not been labelled as a variant under investigation by the World Health Organisation (WHO) yet either, even though it has been present for almost a month.

It’s too early to say what IHU could mean

“There are scores of new variants discovered all the time, but it does not necessarily mean they will be more dangerous,” explained epidemiologist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, who is also a fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.

“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.”

He said this defines when a strain becomes a “variant of concern” like Omicron, which is potentially more evasive of immunity and more contagious.

He concluded: “It remains to be seen in which category this new variant will fall.”

There have been many Covid variants since the virus was first identified back in 2019, but very few have become prominent enough to be been named under the Greek alphabet.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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