A new Covid variant has been discovered in France, which scientists believe may have nine more mutations than Omicron.
The B.1.640.2 strain has originally been called the IHU variant by researchers currently studying it.
It has not yet been branded as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO), and experts have not suggested that the strain is particularly dangerous.
Here’s everything we know about it so far and how it got its name.
Why is the variant called IHU?
The variant got its name because it is being studied by researchers based at the IHU Mediterranee Hospital in Marseille.
If the WHO decides to call it a “variant of concern”, it will be given a Greek name, most likely Pi, as it is the next letter in the alphabet after Omicron.
How dangerous is it?
The variant is thought to have 46 mutations compared to Omicron’s 37. However, the researchers’ study has yet to be peer reviewed.
When this is the case, the WHO will decide whether to classify it as a variant of concern along with Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron.
Two of the peak protein mutations have been detected in previously seen mutations. These are the N501Y and E484K mutations.
The N501Y mutation was detected in the Alpha variant, which can make the virus bind better to human cells.
The E484K mutation could potentially reduce the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.
However, researchers have said that it is “too early to speculate on virological, epidemiological or clinical features of this IHU variant”.
They added: “Overall, these observations once again demonstrate the unpredictability of the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants and their introduction from abroad, and they exemplify the difficulty of controlling such an introduction and subsequent spread.”
American epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, Eric Feigl-Ding, said: “There are dozens of new variants being discovered all the time, but that does not necessarily mean they will be more dangerous. It remains to be seen in which category this new variant is falling. “
How many people have it?
The mutation has been linked to a vaccinated man who traveled back from Cameroon in western Africa to his home in southern France after a three-day journey.
However, researchers stressed that this does not confirm that the variant originated there.
Researchers later found that 12 other people had been given the variant – five children and seven adults – all of whom live in south-eastern France.
There are currently no known cases of the variant elsewhere in the world.
Professor Francis Balloux, a geneticist at University College London, said it was not currently linked to an increase in cases or hospitalizations in France.