Should we worry about the new IHU COVID variant in France?

key takeaways

  • In October 2021, a new variant of the COVID-19 virus was discovered in France. The World Health Organization (WHO) does not currently consider this a serious threat.
  • The variant, known as B.1.640.2 or IHU, was first identified in a vaccinated individual who returned to France after a trip to Cameroon.
  • Only about 20 variant samples were genetically sequenced. Only one has been sequenced since early December 2021.

In October 2021, researchers discovered a new variant of the COVID-19 virus in France. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) does not consider the variant a cause for concern.

This variant is called B.1.640.2 or IHU (named after the Faculty of Hospitals of the University of Marseilles, one of the places where it was discovered).

Only a few new variant samples were identified by genetic sequencing. All were recorded in the first few weeks after the variants were discovered. Only one sample has been found since December 2021.

Where does B.1.640.2 come from?

The new variant was first spotted in a vaccinated person who returned to southern France after traveling to Cameroon. Health officials in Cameroon are monitoring the new variant, but that doesn’t mean it came from Cameroon or elsewhere in Central Africa.

According to a Jan. 7 report by German news site DW, 11 other people were infected with the variant, all linked to the traveler who first discovered the variant.

Which variants of COVID-19 are circulating in the United States?

B.1.640.2 with Omicron

The new variant attracted a lot of media attention as it was discovered the same week that the Omicron variant was officially discovered in France. Since then, Omicron has been all the rage in France, with hundreds of thousands of new cases being diagnosed every week.

Variations of the COVID virus are emerging all the time, but many of them disappear quickly. Some variants will spread, but not quickly. Other variants become a bigger problem because they are fast spreaders that are easy to spread – like Delta and Omicron.

Omicron in the US

“Suddenly, we’re surrounded by one of them. And the others just kind of fail. We don’t always know why,” said Gregory Poland, MD, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Mayo Clinic and founder of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group and director, editor-in-chief of the journal vaccine, Tell very well.

“I want to be careful about comparing it to Omicron or judging it — just because Omicron is so evilly contagious,” Poland said. “So, is this more like Beta, or Gamma, or even Alpha? We don’t know yet.”

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Should we worry about B.1.640.2?

According to Poland, early data suggests that the new variant is not currently spreading very far – but that could change. We also don’t know if the currently available COVID vaccine can protect against the B.1.640.2 variant.

“It is impossible to know at the moment. The WHO will of course try, as usual, to quell fears by saying we are not worried at the moment,” Poland said. “It’s always premature and doesn’t bring trust.”

What does the World Health Organization say

If a new variant is deemed more dangerous, the WHO marks it as a “variant of concern”. B.1.640.2 has not taken this step.

WHO’s COVID events manager, Abdi Mahmud, told reporters that the B.1.640.2 variant was being tracked by the health agency. However, it hasn’t spread widely over the past few weeks, although it “has a lot of opportunity to pick up.”

It’s also possible that the variant has been spreading — just not widely recognized.

“Transmission may be happening, changes may be happening under the radar,” Poland said, adding that if only 1% or less of virus samples are sequenced, viral transmission may not be identified.

This may be partly because genetic sequencing hasn’t done much. According to Poland, about 20 samples of the new variant have been sequenced so far. In comparison, 120,000 Omicron variant sequences have been uploaded to WHO’s GISAID database since the variant was added in November 2021.

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Do mutations matter?

While the B.1.640.2 variant is not currently spreading rapidly, there are still some concerns about its emergence. A recent study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that the variant has 46 genetic mutations and 36 deletions, making it very different from the original COVID virus. That said, the Omicron variant also has many mutations and deletions — and it Yes spread rapidly.

Poland says transmissibility is only indirectly related to the number of genetic mutations or deletions in the variant. He added that when a new variant was first discovered, we couldn’t tell if it would spread faster than others — or just disappear.

“We can understand why something like Omicron is so contagious now, because we know it’s so contagious,” Poland said. “But beforehand, we might not be able to do that.”

what does this mean to you

In October 2021, a new COVID variant (B.1.640.2) was discovered in France. As of early January 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) does not consider B.1.640.2 a “variant of concern”.

Will more COVID-19 variants emerge?