China detects 7 cases of COVID subvariant JN.1; is this a variant of concern?

China on December 15 detected seven infections of the COVID subvariant JN.1, reported news agency Reuters, quoting the National Disease Control and Prevention Administration.

Chinese authorities claimed that the prevalence level of JN.1 is currently ‘very low’ in that country. However, they refused to rule out the possibility of it becoming the dominant strain in China due to factors including imported cases, as per the report.

On December 13, the COVID subvariant JN.1 was detected for the first time in Kerala, reported the Times of India, adding that it triggered concerns over the rising number of cases in the southern state.

The latest data from the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) confirmed the presence of the new variant in Kerala. National Indian Medical Association COVID Task Force’s co-chairman Dr Rajeev Jayadevan even said that JN.1 may be a contributing factor to the recent surge in India’s Covid cases, which currently stands at 938.

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Based on estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, the JN.1 variant now accounts for more than one-fifth of all cases in the United States, reported USA Today.

According to CDC’s latest Nowcast reporting period, the JN.1 cases involving mutation make up between 15 percent and 29 percent of COVID-19 infections, which previously accounted for an estimated 8 percent of cases.

Should you be worried?

Though this is yet to be figured out on the seriousness of the variant, Dr Jayadevan of IMA said the severity of the cases include disabling fatigue – lasting around 48 hours, and upper respiratory symptoms like sore throat and cough.

Meanwhile, the CDC says, the JN.1 could be more transmissible and better at slipping past people’s immune systems, especially with a pattern of respiratory illnesses increasing in winter months. This may rise as most people during this time stay indoors, or visit friends and family for the holidays.

“The narrative here is that JN.1 may be somewhat more contagious,” Dr. Rebecca Wurtz, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, told USA Today, adding, “Thanksgiving happened, winter is starting to happen, and that’s probably what caused it to jump like it did.”

About JN.1:

The JN.1 variant of COVID is considered to be the Omicron subvariant BA.2.86 or Pirola.

Even the World Health Organisation has identified it as a ‘notable descendent lineage ‘ of Omicron, reported TOI, adding that it indicates potential for spiked transmissibility or immune evasion.

Recently, the descendants of Pirola have been spreading in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. So far, it has been detected in 38 countries, including India, and is believed to be responsible for the recent hike in hospitalisation in a few nations.

With agency inputs.

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Published: 15 Dec 2023, 10:11 PM IST