BELIZE CITY, Wed. Jan. 5, 2022– While a number of countries are still facing a surge in Covid-19 cases resulting from the emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, news emerged from France of another new, highly mutated Covid-19 variant. On Tuesday, January 4, 2022, it was announced that the variant IHU, or B.1.640, which is reported to have 46 mutations, including some in the spike protein, has been found in France. However, French scientists claim that this variant isn’t as new as might initially be thought, but has in fact been present in the country for several months. Public awareness of this variant surged following the circulation of a week-old study by researchers from Méditerranée Infection in Marseille, part of France’s Instituts Hospitalo-Universitaires (IHU, or University Hospital Institutes).
According to a report on the findings of the study, the new variant was detected in November last year among 12 persons living in the same geographical area of southeastern France, the first of which had returned from a trip to Cameroon. The variant found in these persons was very similar to the one they had found in January of 2021, which was named IHU. The one that the French researchers found among people in November has now been classified as a derivative of this variant, B.1.640.2.
According to outbreak.info, a website that tracks the prevalence of different variants in genome sequencing databases, at least 400 infections with the B.1.640 variant have so far been identified. The variant has been detected in at least 19 countries.
The highest number of sequences of this variant has come from France, where 287 cases have so far been confirmed. There are 17 cases in Germany and 16 in the United Kingdom. But the country where this variant appears to be the most prevalent is the Congo, where 39 of the 454 genome sequences done so far belong to the B.1.640 lineage.
In November, the World Health Organization (WHO) had classified B.1.640 as a variant under monitoring (VUM) — the entry-level categorization of a variant that is considered worth keeping an eye on.
This variant was last detected on December 25. After that, no new case has been detected in the global databases.
“Nothing to panic or worry too much (about) at the moment, given the evidence. But clearly something that needs to be watched closely for the coming weeks,” said Vinod Scaria, a scientist at the Delhi-based Institute of Genomic and Integrative Biology, in a tweet on Tuesday.