New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: While the world is still looking for ways to battle Omicron and contain its spread, a new variant has been reportedly detected in southern France. Called as "B.1.640.2 or IHU variant", the new strain was discovered last month by the scientists of the Marseille-based Mediterranee Infection University Hospital Institute (IHU).

The IHU variant, which is said to be more infectious than the Omicron strain, has 46 mutations, as per the research which was supported by the French government. However, it is not detected in any other country and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is yet to label it a variant under investigation.

Where was the IHU variant discovered and how many cases have been reported so far?

The IHU variant was discovered in France by the researchers at the institute of IHU Mediterranee Infection. So far, 12 cases of the new variant have been detected in the country.

As per the study, posted on the preprint repository MedRxiv on December 29, the "index case" of the IHU variant was a "fully-vaccinated" man who recently returned to France from Cameroon.

The study claimed that the man had developed mild respiratory symptoms the day before diagnosis. "The index case returned from a travel in Cameroon. The genomes were obtained by next-generation sequencing with Oxford Nanopore Technologies on GridION instruments within 8 hours," it said.

Is the new variant dangerous?

The study claimed that the IHU variant has 46 mutations and 37 deletions resulting in 30 amino acid substitutions and 12 deletions. Amino acids are molecules that combine to form proteins, and both are the building blocks of life, it said.

It further said that 14 amino acid substitutions, including N501Y and E484K, and nine deletions are located in the spike protein. Most currently used vaccines are targeted at the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which the virus uses to enter and infect the cells.

N501Y and E484K mutations were earlier also found in Beta, Gamma, Theta and Omicron variants.

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

"These data are another example of the unpredictability of the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants, and of their introduction in a given geographical area from abroad."

Will vaccines work against the IHU variant?

As of now, there is no information whether vaccines will work against the IHU variant or not. However, know epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding has said that new variants will keep emerging 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," Ding said in a long 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 said.

Posted By: Aalok Sensharma