Explained: When was IHU variant first discovered and its spread

Published on Jan 05, 2022 08:16 AM IST
The IHU variant has been reported just in France and not spotted in any other country or labelled a variant under investigation by the World Health Organization (WHO). It was first discovered in mid-November and is linked to travel to Cameroon in Africa.
A healthcare worker inoculates a woman with a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Bogota, on Tuesday.(AFP Photo)
A healthcare worker inoculates a woman with a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Bogota, on Tuesday.(AFP Photo)
By | Written by Amit Chaturvedi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Amid the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the discovery of a new strain that emerged in France concerned experts across the world. Named ‘IHU’, it raised fears of a new wave of infection.

The variant has 46 mutations and 37 deletions in its genetic code, more than Omicron. Many of these affect the spike protein.

The variant is a sub-lineage of the B.1.640 and its discovery was announced by researchers from Méditerranée Infection in Marseille, part of France’s Instituts hospitalo-universitaires (IHU, or University Hospital Institutes) - hence the name. It has been classified as B.1.640.2.

See the original tweet by IHU:

When was the IHU originally discovered?

According to a Forbes report, the first known case of the IHU variant was detected in mid-November 2021. This predates the official discovery of Omicron (on November 24).

The new variant was found in a man from France who had returned from Cameroon in Africa (the continent where Omicron was also discovered). He began experiencing respiratory symptoms and was tested for Covid-19. The sample returned positive, with the presence of the B.1.640.2 variant.

Also Read | 5 big things to know about the IHU variant

After that, 11 more cases were reported from the same geographical area of southwestern France.

More about the B.1.640 lineage

The lineage is not new. According to outbreak.info, an open-source database of Covid-19 resources and epidemiology data, B.1.640 was first detected on January 1, 2021. It said that 400 infections linked to this lineage have been identified till now.

The B.1.640 cases have been detected in as many as 19 countries, outbreak.info further reported, including one from India. The Indian case was detected from 89,763 sequences reported in the global databases.

The highest number of cases of the B.1.640 variant has been reported from France (287), followed by Congo (39), Germany (17) and the United Kingdom (16).

Is the IHU variant spreading more rapidly?

Till now, only a dozen cases have been reported in France. No other country has detected any new cases of the new variant. And it’s not clear if B.1.640.2 is stronger or spreads faster than the other previously known strains of coronavirus.

That is why, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet deemed this IHU variant a variant of interest, a variant of concern, or even a variant under investigation.

According to a pre-print paper published in MedRxiv, it is too early to speculate on virological, epidemiological or clinical features of this IHU variant.

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