LONDON: French scientists have identified a new COVID-19 variant with 46 mutations — more than even the highly infectious omicron variant.
So far, 12 people in southeastern France are known to have been infected by the variant, named ihu or variant B.1.640.2.
The first case was linked to a person with a travel history to Cameroon, researchers said in a paper published on medRxiv. The person was fully vaccinated.
In their analysis, the authors found “46 mutations” which had not been spotted in other countries, nor labeled a variant under investigation by the World Health Organization.
The authors of the paper said “subsequent detection ... of three mutations in the spike gene to screen for variants ... did not correspond to the pattern of the delta variant involved in almost all SARS-CoV-2 infections at that time.”
While the variant has more mutations than omicron, scientists were quick to point out that this does not necessarily indicate that it is as or more infectious.
Scores of variants are being monitored at any one time by scientists worldwide, and most do not become “variants of concern,” Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, wrote on Twitter.
“There are scores of new variants discovered all the time, but it does not necessarily mean they will be more dangerous,” he said, adding that the highly infectious omicron variant could prove so virulent that it leaves no space for others to take over.
“What makes a variant more well-known and dangerous is its ability to multiply because of the number of mutations it has in relation to the original virus.”
Feigl-Ding continued: “This is when it becomes a ‘variant of concern’ — like omicron, which is more contagious and more past immunity evasive. It remains to be seen in which category this new variant will fall.”