Decoding JN.1: Understanding the Concerns of the New COVID-19 Variant

By Nikhil Ambatkar | 4th Jan 2024

Decoding JN.1: Understanding the Concerns of the New COVID-19 Variant

As the peak of winter illness season approaches, a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, known as JN.1, originating from the Omicron family, is gaining attention worldwide.
Initially identified in the U.S. in September, JN.1 gradually spread worldwide. Recent data from CDC-affiliated labs reveal its rising prevalence, surpassing 20% in the two weeks concluding on December 9, 2023. Additionally, this variant emerged in Karakulam, Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala, India, on December 8, 2023.

What is the history of COVID-19 JN.1?

JN.1, a variant closely linked to BA.2.86 tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since August, shows similarity despite different names. The sole difference between the BA.2.86 variant and JN.1 lies in a spike protein alteration. Detected in the U.S. in September 2023, JN.1 constituted less than 0.1% of SARS-CoV-2 viruses by October 2023. Initially grouped with BA.2.86 on the COVID Data tracker, its unique features emerge amid ongoing surveillance.

Prevalence of COVID-19 JN.1 variant

As of December 8, 2023, the CDC estimates that the JN.1 variant constitutes 15–29% of cases in the United States. CDC anticipates a continued rise in JN.1’s prevalence among SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences, marking it the fastest-growing variant in the United States.
As of December 21, 2023, this new strain has already been detected in India and China and spreading to other parts of the world.

Symptoms of COVID-19 JN.1 variant

Initial symptoms of the COVID-19 JN.1 variant may include fever, runny nose, sore throat, headache, and occasional stomach issues, with some experiencing difficulty breathing. It’s crucial to note that there is currently no evidence suggesting that this variant is more severe or has a higher fatality rate compared to others.

Impact of this new variant

  • The ongoing surge of JN.1 implies increased transmissibility or enhanced immune system evasion, though there is no current evidence of heightened severity.
  • Upgraded COVID-19 vaccines are anticipated to strengthen protection against JN.1, akin to other variants.
  • Existing tests and treatments for COVID-19 are projected to maintain effectiveness against JN.1.
  • The quick rise of JN.1 relative to other variants raises concerns about its potential contribution to a gradual rise in infections.

Is this COVID-19 JN.1 variant a concern?

On December 19, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified JN.1 as a variant of interest (VOI), citing its rapid spread. However, the WHO has refrained from categorising JN.1 as a variant of concern, indicating no evidence of heightened severity, reduced vaccine efficacy, or significant impact on healthcare delivery associated with this new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

What should you do to protect yourself from this variant?

Essential measures to check the spread of this infection include similar measures of protection from other COVID variants, such as handwashing at regular intervals, mask-wearing, and maintaining a safe distance from others. Individuals at elevated risk, mainly those vulnerable, should implement additional precautionary measures.

Takeaway Message

The impact of JN.1 on case numbers remains uncertain, particularly during the bustling holiday season, which could contribute to heightened transmission. The severity and potential danger of a COVID-19 variant depend on factors such as its transmission rate, vaccine effectiveness, and healthcare system capacity. Staying informed with the latest updates and adhering to guidelines from public health authorities is crucial to protect yourself and others. Stay informed and follow recommended practices for a safer community!

References

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