- A new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 known as IHU has been identified in Souther France and so far 12 people have been diagnosed with the same.
- The spike protein of the newly found variant consists of 14 amino acid substitutions including N501Y and E484K and 9 deletions.
- Epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding opinionates that variant mutation does not always imply a greater threat.
As the world struggles to come to terms with the reality of the Omicron variant enveloping the entire population, there is yet another threat cropping up in Southern France. A new strain of the COVID-19 causing virus, known as the IHU or B.1.640.2 has been identified by the scientists at the IHU Mediterranee Infection Institute and has infected 12 individuals so far. Travel to the African country of Cameroon has been associated with this virus.
However, speculations on variant behaviour as infection and its resistance to vaccines are still on hold as it might be too early to come to any conclusions. The study conducted by the IHU institute is posted on the preprint repository MedRxiv on 29th December and is yet to be reviewed by peers. It unveiled that the IHU variant has 46 mutations and 37 deletions that result in 30 amino acid substitutions and 12 deletions.
The combination of amino acids gives rise to proteins and both are the quintessential building blocks of life. Spike proteins are present in the envelope surrounding a virus and contain approximately 1,160 to 1,400 amino acids depending upon the type of virus They play a significant role in penetrating the host cells and initiating the infection. This is the primary reason why most vaccines that are in the market or are under development target spike proteins.
The spike protein contains 14 amino acid substitutions including N501Y and E484K, and 9 deletions. Mutations of the N501Y and the E484K were identified earlier in the Gamma, Beta, Theta and Omicron variants. The authors reported that the mutation set and the genome’s phylogenetic position obtained in the study indicate the presence of a new variant which they termed as IHU. They went on to say that the data from the study highlight the unpredicability ofadditional variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and of their initiation in a said geographical area from abroad.
The index case (first) diagnosed with the IHU variant was that of an adult whose RTPCR test was conducted in a laboratory on a nasopharyngeal sample collected in mid-November 2021, confirming the presence of the virus. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist took to Twitter and posted a thread underling the fact that the emergence of new variants is inevitable but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will pose a greater threat.
Eric further says that a virus is labelled as a “variant of concern” depending upon its ability to multiply based on the number of mutations it has in relation to the original virus. He cited the Omicron variant saying that it is extremely contagious and evades the immune system barrier much easily. The first case of Omicron was identified in a South African sample last year in November and has spread its tentacles in over 100 countries since then. Nearly 1,900 people in India have been affected by this variant.