The health ministry in France has reported a new Coronavirus variant that is not detectable through standard tests.
Mutations are a common occurrence in viruses. However, they can dramatically change the course of an infection. As a result of these evolutional changes, coronavirus variants have emerged in multiple countries across the world. Currently, three of these – the UK, South Africa, and Brazil variant – have raised considerable concerns. Mostly because of their increased transmissibility and higher mortality rates. Now, a new coronavirus variant has appeared in France and can likely become a threat if not contained.
This past week, French health ministry announced the discovery of a new variant in Brittany in Western France. Called the ‘Breton’ variant, it was identified in eight of the 79 COVID-19 patients at Lannion hospital. However, despite having all the classical symptoms, nasal swab PCR test of all eight came back negative. Therefore, doctors collected deep respiratory samples for a PCR test, and tested their blood for antibodies. Only then did they confirm an infection. However, genetic sequencing revealed that the virus had multiple mutations on its spike protein. Thus, confirming the discovery of a new coronavirus variant.
France has notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of their discovery. It is currently classified as a variant under surveillance.
Lack of Evidence on Transmissibility
The coronavirus variant in France did not share any key mutations with either the South Africa or Brazil variant. Both of which are more transmissible and can evade vaccines. However, the Breton variant is from the same group of strains as the variant discovered in Southern California.
All eight of the patients in Brittany have since died. But the French Health Ministry believes this does not make it more transmissible or deadly. Investigations are currently underway to help scientists understand the variant better. Moreover, they aim to investigate whether an error in the PCR tests resulted in a wrong result.
However, the fact that it is missed by standard testing means the mutation will result in the virus going undetected. Thus, making it a potential threat.