Covid may not be a health emergency anymore, but newer variants continue to emerge from Omicron lineage. The newest Covid variant JN.1 that was first detected in US hardly two months back in September 2023 has now spread to 11 other countries is the descendent of Pirola virus. However, the variant has very little variation compared to BA.2.86 or Pirola variant and as per CDC, this variant has only a single change compared to BA.2.86 in the spike protein. So is there any reason to worry about as far as JN.1 is concerned? CDC says the new strain makes up for fewer than 0.1 per cent of SARS-CoV-2 viruses and thus isn’t much of a threat. As regards safeguarding against the disease, current vaccines may not be of much use in case of JN.1 strain, however, the updated vaccines will protect against severe disease. The symptoms of JN.1 and Pirola are also similar from respiratory issues, fever, to fatigue. Also read | New Covid variant ‘Pirola’ or BA.2.86 is different from others, Coronavirologist shares 5 important facts
“Viruses constantly evolve over time and produce new variants. We will have new variants as long as we have Covid-19. The newest Covid-19 variant, JN.1, was detected in September 23 and presents a small change in spike protein compared to the previous variant BA.2.86 or Pirola. As the spike protein is also part of the Covid-19 vaccine target, vaccines should also be effective against JN.1 and BA.2.86 variants. We also expect treatments and testing to remain effective against the JN.1 and BA.2.86 variants of Covid-19. We are learning about this new variant. CDC and other agencies are monitoring impact of new variant on vaccine, tests and treatment and will alert if anything concerning is detected. It is very important that we do not panic. Regardless of variant, all SARSCoV2 viruses spread the same way. So it is important to protect yourself and others by following appropriate health and hygiene practices,” says Dr Navin Kumar, Consultant – Clinical Microbiology & Infection Prevention, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, Dwarka.
Do we need to worry about JN.1?
“As an infectious disease expert, my primary concern is the evolving landscape of the Covid virus, and the emergence of the JN.1 variant raises important questions. Similar to the Pirola variant, JN.1 shares a common lineage but exhibits distinct genetic characteristics. This genetic shift underscores the virus’s adaptability, potentially influencing factors such as transmissibility and vaccine efficacy. I personally believe that there’s no reason for public to panic at present but simultaneously there’s no harm in taking precautions. Preliminary data suggests similarities in symptoms between JN.1 and Pirola, encompassing respiratory distress, fever, and fatigue. However, it is crucial to emphasize that our understanding is still evolving, and detailed research is imperative to ascertain the nuanced clinical features of the JN.1 variant,” says Dr Pawan Kumar Goyal, Senior consultant internal medicine, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.
“Most important thing with this variant is most of the changes in JN.1 are found in the spike protein, which likely correlates to increases in infectivity and immune evasion. This might mean that current vaccines will not work to keep the virus far away/ As a result someone could be more infectious. The updated vaccine is closer to JN.1 than our old vaccine, if more cases with JN.1, the updated vaccine will protect against severe disease. Monitoring the spread and impact of the Pirola and JN.1 variants, along with ongoing research to understand their behaviour and implications, will be crucial for informing public health strategies and vaccination efforts,” says Dr Goyal.
Symptoms of JN.1
“Early reports suggest that the symptoms of the JN1 variant closely mirror those of its predecessors. Patients infected with JN1 may experience fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and loss of taste or smell. However, it is imperative to remain vigilant as new information surfaces and the medical community continues to study the variant,” says Dr Kuldeep Kumar Grover, Head of critical care & Pulmonology, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram.
Is JN.1 variant similar to Pirola?
“JN1 shares certain genetic similarities with the Pirola variant, both belonging to the extensive family of SARS-CoV-2. However, it’s essential to note that the specific mutations in JN1 may differ, influencing factors such as transmissibility, severity, and potential vaccine effectiveness. Ongoing genomic surveillance is critical for closely monitoring these variations,” says Dr Grover.
JN.1 facts you must know as explained by Dr Grover:
1. Transmissibility: Preliminary data indicates that JN1 may have an increased transmissibility rate. It is crucial to adhere to public health guidelines, including wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene, and maintaining social distancing.
2. Vaccination: Vaccination remains a key weapon against severe illness and hospitalization. Individuals are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated and stay up-to-date with booster shots as recommended by health authorities.
3. Testing and surveillance: Timely testing and robust surveillance systems are instrumental in identifying and containing the spread of the variant. If you experience symptoms or have been in contact with someone diagnosed with JN1, seek testing promptly.
4. Adaptation of measures: As our understanding of JN1 evolves, public health measures may need adjustment. Staying informed through reliable sources and following guidelines from health authorities is vital.
Precautions against JN.1
1. Mask-wearing: Consistent and correct mask usage, especially in crowded or indoor settings, remains a crucial preventive measure.
2. Hand hygiene: Regular handwashing with soap and water, or the use of hand sanitizers, helps reduce the risk of infection.
3. Social distancing: Maintain a safe distance from individuals not in your household, particularly in areas with high transmission rates.
4. Ventilation: Ensure adequate ventilation in indoor spaces to minimize the concentration of viral particles in the air.
“One notable aspect of concern is the potential for increased transmissibility associated with JN.1. This emphasizes the importance of heightened surveillance and prompt public health responses to curb its spread. The global community must remain vigilant, recognizing that the virus’s ability to mutate necessitates ongoing adaptation of our preventive and therapeutic strategies. In facing this new challenge, vaccination continues to be a cornerstone of defense. While existing vaccines have demonstrated effectiveness against various strains, ongoing research is crucial for monitoring and adapting to changes in the virus. Our collective efforts in vaccination and adhering to public health guidelines remain pivotal in mitigating the impact of new variants, including JN.1. As we navigate this complex situation, it is essential for the public to stay informed and follow guidelines to protect themselves and others. Collaborative research and a proactive public health approach are key in addressing the uncertainties posed by emerging Covid variants, such as JN.1,” says Dr Goyal.