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What is the new covid-19 IHU variant in France? Where else has it been discovered?

While the number of Omicron cases in the US continues to soar another variant has been identified in Europe, with mutations that have concerned researchers.

While the number of Omicron cases in the US continues to soar another variant has been identified in Europe, with mutations that have concerned researchers.

The spread of Omicron is continuing to cause problems for authorities in the United States and across the world, but in France another variant, named ‘IHU’, has been identified.

The new variant contains 46 new mutations on the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and is so far thought to have infected 12 people in southeast France. This variant, also known as B.1.640.2, is not yet known to be particularly contagious or dangerous but the high number of new mutations contained within the molecular structure is notable.

Authors of a medRxiv research paper into the IHU variant said "subsequent detection... of three mutations in the spike gene to screen for variants... did not correspond to the pattern of the Delta variant involved in almost all SARS-CoV-2 infections at that time”.

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Where has the covid-19 IHU variant been identified?

Researchers working on the medRxiv paper found that the first case in France was found in a person with a travel history to Cameroon in western Africa. The first confirmed case in the southern Alps date back to last year, around the same time that the Omicron variant was identified in South Africa.

Despite that, the only confirmed cases of the IHU variant are the 12 identified in France, suggesting that the variant is nowhere near as contagious as Omicron. As it stand the variant has not been labelled a ‘Variant Under Investigation’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO), suggesting that the scientific community is not too concerned with IHU.

Epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding outlined the situation in a Twitter thread, explaining that: “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.”

Omicron fuels spike in cases as US hits new record

While IHU appears to be restricted to a small are in France for now, the Omicron variant continues to cause havoc across the world with the United States feeling the brunt of the more contagious variant.

Figures for the week ending on 1 January 2022 show that 95% of all sequenced cases in the US were Omicron, with the previously dominant Delta now accounting for just 4.6%. This data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the scale of the change since the start of December, when Omicron accounted for less than 1% of US covid-19 cases.

Data compiled by John Hopkins University found that the United States set a new daily record for coronavirus cases on Monday, 3 January with more than one million new infections. The surge has been attributed to Omicron’s ability to evade the immunity normally provided by vaccines, although vaccinated people are far less likely to be hospitalised or die as a result.

President Biden told reporters recently: “We’re seeing covid-19 cases among vaccinated workplaces across America, including here at the White House, but if you’re vaccinated and boosted, you are highly protected.”