What Do We Know About The 'IHU' Variant?


By Ryan Basen

A new coronavirus variant has been making headlines, but researchers say it's nothing to be concerned about at the moment -- and may never be.

The variant, B.1.640.2, was discovered in a male patient at the University Hospital Institute (IHU) Mediterranee Infection in Southern France around the same time Omicron was discovered in South Africa. Thus, it's been dubbed the "IHU" variant.

Researchers there -- among them Didier Raoult, who was a lead proponent of hydroxychlorine in the early days of the pandemic -- published a report in late December on 12 patients confirmed to have the variant.

The index case, they reported, had been vaccinated and had recently returned to France from Cameroon, according to the preprint. He developed mild respiratory symptoms within 3 days of his return, according to the preprint.

The new variant had 46 mutations and 37 deletions, they found, with 14 amino acid substitutions (including N501Y and E484K) and 12 deletions in the spike protein.

The WHO classified B.1.640.2 as a "variant under monitoring" in November, after the first sequence was uploaded to the GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data) COVID database on November 4.

On Tuesday, WHO COVID incident manager Abdi Mahamud confirmed that B.1.640.2 is still being monitored and does not seem to have spread much, despite the fact that it "has had a lot of chances to pick up," according to the New York Times.

But experts know too little about the variant to draw any conclusions, or even make supported assumptions. "It is too early to speculate on virological, epidemiological, or clinical features of this IHU variant [the name the researchers gave it]," the authors wrote.

Other experts suggested they know at least enough to state that the variant will not have the same impact as the other contagious or powerful variants that have been circulating during the pandemic.

"Def not one worth worrying about too much [now]," Tom Peacock, PhD, a virologist at Imperial College London, tweeted.

"It hasn't done much," University of Texas School of Public Health epidemiology professor Katelyn Jetelina, PhD, wrote. "We are not worried about it at this time."

Parent lineage B.1.640 was identified in September, with the European CDC placing it under monitoring. It has not been boosted to a higher concern level since then.


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