As far as researchers can tell, a new coronavirus variant detected in northwest France isn't deadlier or more infectious—but what makes it concerning is the fact that it's a lot harder to detect. Officials say the new variant was found after further testing was conducted on patients who had COVID symptoms but initially tested negative for the virus on standard PCR tests, Bloomberg reports. Samples from taken blood or deep in the respiratory system confirmed they were infected. French authorities say eight cases of the variant were confirmed in a cluster of 79 patients in a Brittany hospital.
"Investigations will take place to determine how this variant reacts to vaccination and to antibodies developed during prior COVID infections," the regional health authority said in a statement, per France 24. Authorities say the new variant has nine mutations in its spike protein, and they're investigating whether the changes are what made it harder to detect with standard tests. The infection rate in Brittany is currently well below the rate in Paris and its surrounding area, but cases have been rising in Brittany in recent weeks, reports Reuters. France says international agencies have been contacted about the new variant. (Read more COVID variants stories.)