What We Know About The New COVID-19 Variant Identified In France

As the COVID-19 virus continues to change and mutate, as seen with the development of the Delta and Omicron variants, the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to monitor the detection of any new variants with the potential to become "Variants of Concern."

Preliminary research that has yet to be peer-reviewed, which was published as a preprint in medRxiv, revealed the emergence of a new variant detected in southeastern France. With 12 individuals having tested positive for the variant within the region, the first case found was in a vaccinated individual having returned from traveling in Cameroon (via The New York Times). Classified as the B.1.640.2 variant, it has since been abbreviated as the "IHU variant" for the Méditerranée Infection University Hospital Institute (IHU), where researchers reported initial detection of the variant (via Forbes).

The IHU variant was found to have 46 genetic mutations and 37 deletions (via Forbes), which is not unlike the Omicron variant's genetic mutations that are thought to play a role in its highly transmissible nature, reports The New York Times.

The IHU variant has not been deemed a 'variant of concern'

Researchers at IHU wrote in their findings regarding the B.1.640.2 variant, "It is too early to speculate on virological, epidemiological or clinical features of this I.H.U. variant based on these 12 cases" (via The New York Times). WHO official Abdi Mahmud takes a similar stance, explaining to the press that the variant has not significantly spread since it was first brought to their attention in November 2021.

Virologist in the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College in London Tom Peacock tweeted in regards to the IHU variant stating, "[Definitely] not one worth worrying about too much at the [moment]." Peacock went on to write, "This virus has had a decent chance to cause trouble but never really materialised (as far as we can tell at least...)."

Professor of Health Policy and Management at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health Bruce Y. Lee explained in Forbes that a variant with multiple mutations is not necessarily bad, nor is it a clear indication as to how it will develop. Lee wrote, "Mutations can make little difference, make a virus weaker, or make a virus stronger in different ways. It's just not clear yet what this B.1.640.2 set of mutations might do." As of this writing, the IHU variant has not been deemed a "variant of concern," but rather is under continued investigation, according to Time.