A new sub-variant of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus, known as JN.1, has been classified as a "variant of interest" by the World Health Organization (WHO) due to its rapid spread. JN.1 has been detected in various countries, including India, China, the UK, and the United States. Despite its increasing prevalence, the current risk to the public remains low, and existing vaccines continue to provide protection against the variant, according to the WHO.
However, the WHO warns that there could be a rise in Covid-19 cases and other infections during the winter season. Respiratory viruses such as the flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and childhood pneumonia are also on the rise in the northern hemisphere.
The coronavirus is constantly evolving, leading to the emergence of new variants over time. Omicron has been the dominant variant globally for a while now. The WHO is closely monitoring several variants linked to Omicron, including JN.1, but none of them are currently considered concerning. Nevertheless, JN.1 is spreading rapidly in many parts of the world.
JN.1 is currently the fastest-growing variant in the United States, accounting for 15-29% of infections, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the UK, JN.1 makes up approximately 7% of positive Covid-19 tests analyzed in laboratories, says the UK Health Security Agency.
It is believed that JN.1's quick spread is due to an additional mutation in the spike protein compared to its predecessor variant, BA.2.86. The WHO's risk assessment suggests that JN.1 may contribute to an increase in Covid-19 cases alongside a surge in other viral and bacterial infections, especially in countries entering the winter season.
While there is limited evidence on JN.1's ability to evade vaccine immunity, there have been no reports of individuals becoming more severely ill with this variant compared to previous ones. However, further studies are needed to determine the health impact of JN.1, as the number of countries reporting data on hospital admissions for Covid-19 has significantly decreased.
To prevent infections and severe illness, the WHO advises the public to wear masks in crowded and enclosed areas, cover coughs and sneezes, practice regular hand hygiene, stay up to date with Covid-19 and flu vaccinations (especially for vulnerable individuals), stay home when feeling unwell, and get tested if experiencing symptoms.