HEALTHLINE – A new COVID-19 variant made news after a French traveler returning from Africa tested positive for it in November, according to a study that has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Researchers said the traveler was an adult man previously vaccinated against COVID-19 who had recently returned from Cameroon. He was tested in mid-November of 2021 after developing mild respiratory symptoms.
The new variant was named B.1.640.2, but scientists have nicknamed it “IHU.”
While the variant was detected before Omicron, the study was only made public this month, drawing new attention to IHU.
How are new variants identified?
Robert G. Lahita, MD, PhD, director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at Saint Joseph Health, and author of “Immunity Strong,” said researchers look at RNA [ribonucleic acid] to detect new variants. RNATrusted Source is a nucleic acid similar to DNA but a single strand.
“Every COVID variant has a specific RNA signature, which we can see when conducting a PCR test, for example,” he told Healthline.
“When we see a distinct signature that varies from the ones we have already documented — Delta, Omicron, etc. — we know it’s a different, and new, variant of the COVID virus,” he continued.
Researchers say IHU contains 46 mutations, significantly more than Omicron, which may make it more infectious and resistant to vaccine protection.
Roughly 12 cases of the new variant have been identified so far near Marseille, France.
The strain has the N501Y mutation, which experts suspect might make it more transmissible.
According to Lahita, the number of mutations “speaks” to how different the variant is from the original version of the virus.
“This is important because it alters the stereochemistry (structure) of the spike protein,” he said. “The effectiveness of the immune system depends on recognizing the structure of a virus in order to create an immune response” … read more.