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IHU variant: New Covid strain with more mutations than Omicron detected in France

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) is “monitoring” a new variant of COVID-19, first detected in southern France, after cases were confirmed in the UK.

The B.1.640.2 variant, named the “IHU” variant by researchers, was first spotted in southern France and is linked to travel to Cameroon, according to a pre-print study.

Researchers based at the IHU Mediterranee hospital in Marseille said the new variant was linked to a vaccinated man who had recently returned from Cameroon to his home in south-eastern France.

Marseille University Hospital (IHU) in southern France tweeted that they had detected the new variant in someone who had travelled from Cameroon and that 11 people who had been in contact with that person had also been infected.

IHU announced that it had registered the variant on GISAID and named it after the institution that had discovered it: IHU. 

The website also claimed that 315 people in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, which includes Marseille, were on respirators. 

French Professor Didier Raoult hadn’t already shot to global fame for his claims that hydroxychloroquine could be used in the fight against Covid-19.

Professor François Belloux, director at the University College London’s Genetics Institute. “In case anyone came across tweets by @DrEricDing or other ‘variant fear mongers’ who possibly disappointed by Omicron, are announcing the new variant from hell (B.1.640.2), please relax for now …”, he tweeted, accompanying his claims with data and charts in an attempt to reassure the general public. He noted that the last detected IHU case was recorded on December 6 last year – and that it “does not explain a spike of cases in Southern France” and “has not sent hundreds of people in ICU in France”.  

Tom Peacock, a virologist at the Imperial College of London, also addressed the uproar. “Lots of chat about B.1.640.2 in the last few days – just a few points to keep in mind: – B.1.640.2 actually predates Omicron – in all that time there are exactly … 20 sequences (compared to the >120k Omis in less time) Def not one worth worrying about too much at the mo…”

The WHO warned that the variant does have a “large number of mutations”, but stressed that it is currently not circulating widely at the moment. Speaking in a media briefing on COVID-19, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said: “This variant…has been characterised as a variant under monitoring. “Our understanding is it is not very well circulating.

 

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