New York: While the world is pulling in resources to fight back against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, scientists have detected a relatively new strain. It is called the IHU variant, or B.1.640.2. The new strain of coronavirus was first detected in southern France last month. However, now it has begun catching the attention of global experts. The new variant was first detected by researchers at the Marseille-based Mediterranee Infection University Hospital Institute (IHU).
The researchers have said the new variant has 46 mutations. This is leading to the fear that IHU could be more resistant to existing vaccines. However, experts have said it is too early to say anything with certainty about its behaviour.
Where was IHU detected?
At least 12 people were found infected with IHU in the Marseille area. Reports have said some of them have been hospitalised with the illness. The cases have been linked to travel to Cameroon.
The researchers have said that the first case was detected in an adult from a small town in southeastern France. He was diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 in an RT-PCR test performed at a private medical biology laboratory. The person had developed mild respiratory symptoms the day before diagnosis. Later, respiratory samples collected from seven other Covid-19 positive patients from the same locality showed the same combination of mutations.
How is the research progressing?
The IHU researchers first detected the variant December 10. Since then they have been studying the new variant. They are trying to understand its behaviour. Their research showed that this strain of the SARS-CoV-2 carries the N501Y mutation – first seen on the Alpha variant – that experts believe can make it more transmissible. The researchers found that it also carries the E484K mutation, which could mean that the variant will be more resistant to vaccines.
What does the WHO say?
Since the variant is not yet detected in other countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is yet to label it a variant under investigation.
What do experts say about the new variant?
Experts are advising caution until more is known about this or other previous variants like the Omicron. They say new variants keep merging during a pandemic but not all of them necessarily are virulent or cause severe illness. So, it is wise to wait for more information and not jump to conclusions.
“There are scores of new variants discovered all the time, but it does not necessarily mean they will be more dangerous. 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,” said epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding.