Here’s why you shouldn’t worry about IHU – the new variant of Covid in France – yet, according to WHO


The World Health Organization has urged the public not to worry prematurely about the IHU variant, also known as B.1.640.2, a highly mutated strain of the coronavirus first identified in France on 4 November and whose properties remain mostly unknown to researchers.


The variant of the IHU, named after the research center of the Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire Méditerranée Infection which contributed to its identification, contains 46 mutationssimilar to the highly mutated omicron variant.

The IHU variant was first reported in the south of France in a patient who had recently returned from Cameroon, according to a paper published on medRxiv on December 29, ahead of peer review.

Although the IHU variant demonstrates the unpredictable emergence and cross-border spread of new Covid variants, it is too early to speculate how the variant will spread or what symptoms it will cause, according to the article. , which was authored by the sometimes controversial IHU Méditerranée. Infection founder Didier Raoult and other researchers.

The WHO has been monitoring the IHU variant since November, but has seen little evidence of spread beyond about 20 cases, although the variant had a “high chance of spreading”, Abdi Mahmud, head of WHO Covid incidents. noted Tuesday.

Key Context

Heavily mutated Covid variants can behave in unexpected ways. Mutations in the omicron variant helped it become more transmissible and also made it unresponsive to most antibody treatments because the viral structures targeted by those treatments had changed shape. Although some earlier variants, such as delta, can cause more severe disease, viruses usually mutate to become more infectious and less lethal, noted Northeastern University researchers. Some research suggests that omicron might follow this pattern, representing a strain that is more transmissible but less likely to send patients to hospital.


Raoult’s maverick approach has sparked controversy on several occasions. In 2020, Raoult promoted the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a 100% effective cure for Covid, despite little evidence to substantiate the claim. In response, European Union politician Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit informed Raoult to stop presenting himself as a genius and to “shut up and be a doctor”. President Donald Trump later claimed that hydroxychloroquine was a wonder curemuch to the chagrin of American doctors, who warned the public about the drug’s potential psychiatric and cardiac side effects.

Further reading

“A variant found in France is not of concern, says the WHO.” (New York Times)

“WHO downplays threat of Covid-19 variant found in France” (Bloomberg)

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