UBC professor comments on threat of COVID-19 variant “IHU”

WHO responded to global concerns about the variant in a briefing.

As Canadian health officials and their global counterparts grapple with an unprecedented rise in coronavirus cases, researchers in France have identified another variant of interest.

With 46 mutations of the original COVID-19 strain, the B.1.640.2 variant, nicknamed “IHU” by researchers at the IHU Mediterranee Infection, was first identified in November and has raised international concerns. . However, the number of cases did not increase at Omicron’s rate after its discovery.

But that doesn’t mean scientists won’t keep an eye on the pressure.

A proposal in The Panago Network points out: “In a similar vein to the recent splitting of B.1.1.529 (Omicron) into two sister sublines, it appears that B.1.640 may also have a similar problem with a major group noting of the vast majority of the sequences and a small outer group which appears to be related but which has a very different set of mutations … and includes sequences from France and England, indicating some degree of spread. “

Although it was identified around the same time as Omicron, the IHU had no generalized infections. During a press briefing on Tuesday (January 4), WHO incident manager Abdi Mahamud said the organization was keeping the variant on its “radar” but had not spread despite the opportunities. .

Understandably, the announcement of a new variant is causing concern around the world and here in British Columbia. But a local researcher believes the strain is not a threat at this time.

B.1.640.2 variant in British Columbia

UBC’s Dr Sarah Otto said Vancouver is awesome that it does not currently view the tension as a threat to public safety in British Columbia.

“Yes it has 46 mutations, but after two years of evolution it’s not that unusual,” she explained, noting that most COVID variants now carry between 40 and 60 mutations compared to the ancestral strain of Wuhan.

“In addition, most of the B.1.640.2 sequences were observed last year (mainly October and November) and their frequency has not increased to our knowledge.”

Otto, who also holds the Canada Research Chair in Theoretical and Experimental Evolution, added that his interpretation is that there was a “divergence in a fairly isolated population,” which is why the strain did not have been detected before. In addition, some authors estimate that it diverged up to a year ago (January 2021) from the B.1.640.1 virus seen elsewhere.

“There has been talk of it being more ‘infectious’ but I think there is no data on it, just speculation based on the mutations carried,” she said. “Based on the data available, it is strongly selected over Omicron. “

Regardless of her potential transmissibility, Otto emphasizes that she is happy that genome centers around the world are keeping an eye out for unusual variants.

“I just don’t think this is the one that should be of concern to the public, based on the data so far.”

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