While the world is pulling in resources to fight against the Omicron version of the coronavirus, scientists have discovered a relatively new strain. Called the IHU version, or B.1.640.2, it was first detected last month in southern France, but has now begun to attract the attention of global experts. Detected by researchers from the University Hospital Institute (IHU) of the Mediterranean Infection in Marseille, the variant has 46 mutations. This is raising fears that IHU may be more resistant to existing vaccines. However, experts say it is too early to say anything definitive about its behavior.
Where was IHU traced?
At least 12 people were found infected with IHU in the Marseille region and reports say some of them have been hospitalized with the disease. The cases have been linked to travel to the African country of Cameroon.
The researchers noted that the first case was reported in an adult from a small town in southeastern France. He was diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 in an RT-PCR test conducted 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 region showed the same combination of mutations.
How is research progressing?
Researchers at IHU first detected the variant on 10 December and have been studying it ever since, trying to predict and understand its behavior. So far 46 mutations have been found in it. Their tests showed that this strain of SARS-CoV-2 carries the N501Y mutation – which was first observed on the alpha variant – which experts believe could make it more transmissible. The researchers found that it also carries the E484K mutation, which could mean that the variant would be more resistant to vaccines.
The researchers published a paper online on December 29. The study has yet to be reviewed. However, it said that IHU has 46 mutations and 37 deletions. The researchers said the data they gathered is “another example of the unpredictability of the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants and their introduction into a given geographic area from overseas”.
What does WHO say?
Since the variant has not yet been detected in other countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet labeled it a variant under investigation.
How do experts view the new version?
Experts are advising caution until more information is known about this or other previous variants such as Omron. They say that new forms keep emerging during epidemics but not all of them are necessarily viruses or cause serious illness. Therefore, it is wise to wait for more information and not jump to conclusions.
“Many new variants are discovered all the time, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be more dangerous. What makes one variant more well-known and dangerous,” said epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding, is the number of mutations in relation to the original virus. The reason for the number is the ability to multiply.
6) There are many new forms discovered all the time, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be more dangerous. What makes a variant more famous and dangerous is its ability to multiply because of the number of mutations it has in relation to the original virus.
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) 3 January 2022
Mr Feigl-ding said he is not yet concerned about IHU. “I doubt it will win over Omicron” [5-6x faster than Delta] or delta [which is 2x faster than original],
11) Another source says an increase in ICU and deaths in South East France ???????? Still there are reasons for the delta – possible. i’m not worried about it #B16402 Still—I doubt it will win over Omicron (5-6x faster than Delta) or Delta (which is 2x faster than the original). https://t.co/jJeaLsf1ZU
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) 3 January 2022
The development comes at a time when the world is grappling with a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases triggered by Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa in November. Since then, it has spread to over 100 countries including India. Right now, the active cases in the country are 37,379 in the last 24 hours.
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