Covid JN.1 variant has entered India, and the country has reported over 150 cases of the new strain so far, which has raised alarm bells across different cities. Health authorities have urged to bring back social distancing measures and other preventive measures amid New Year celebrations that can further lead to increase in cases. Cold temperatures and festive gatherings may allow the virus to spread more easily. Covid JN.1 is a sub-variant of Omicron lineage and is more transmissible compared to the previous strains. Experts say it spreads faster than the other Omicron variants but does not cause more severe disease. Fever, cough, cold, headache, gastrointestinal disorders, breathing issues are some of the common symptoms of Covid JN.1. Experts warn that those with co-morbidities or who have suffered lung damage in previous waves must be careful as the new variant can affect them more.
What is JN.1 and how is it different from other Omicron variants?
“JN.1 is a sub-variant of Omicron, which means it has evolved through some genetic changes from Omicron variant to form the current strain which has found a lot of success in its ability to infect and transmit between people. JN.1 has a much higher transmissibility rate as compared to Omicron which means the number of people it can reach is much higher than it was for Omicron. Possibly even a small amount of exposure can cause an infection. If there is even a mild symptom, one must adhere to social distancing norms to protect themselves. With holiday season the risk of transmission goes up because this is the time we all meet and gather and spend time with our friends and families in closed spaces. Moreover, this is the winter time when humidity in the air is much lower which allows the moist droplets to hang in the air, increasing the amount of time that it can expose a person to the infection,” says Dr Pavithra Venkatagopalan, a microbiologist, coronavirus expert, and Covid Awareness Specialist, Rotary Club of Madras Next Gen in a telecon with HT Digital.
Dr Tanu Singhal, Consultant, Paediatrics and Infectious Disease, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital Mumbai says Covid JN.1 can spreads faster than the other Omicron lineages but does not necessarily cause more severe disease.
“JN.1 a descendent of BA 2.86 has emerged as the dominant variant and is currently estimated to cause more than 25% of all SARS-COV infections worldwide. It is causing more than 50% of all infections in the USA and 70% in Singapore. It has been labelled as a Variant of interest by the WHO. This rapid emergence is due to a new mutation in the spike protein which makes it evasive to immunity achieved by previous vaccination/natural infection. Studies show that the Omicron-specific vaccine booster may give some cross protection against JN.1. Fortunately, disease due to JN.1 has been mild and there is no increase in hospitalization as compared to the Omicron lineages,” adds Dr Singhal.
Dr. Nikhil Modi, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals says the newer variant of Covid -19 is genetically different and hence spreading more rapidly but agrees that common symptoms remain mild and similar to the previous strains.
“As we have seen in the past, Covid has come up with new or updated variants over time. The severity of different variants has varied, and for the time being, most cases associated with the JN.1 involved symptoms such as headaches and others.
However, this new variant differs in the sense that it can spread faster compared to other variants. As the number of cases increases, we might start to observe more severe cases as well. The common symptoms we are currently seeing include cough, runny nose, sore throat, body aches, and fever, which can be high-grade. Headaches are also reported in some cases.
Being genetically different, this variant has the ability to spread more rapidly. The severity of cases so far has been mild. Only as we see more and more cases will we be able to understand more about its impact,” says Dr Nikhil Modi, Senior Consultant, Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.
Dr. Avi Kumar, Senior Consultant, Pulmonology, Fortis Escorts, Okhla Road, New Delhi warns there are notable symptoms of JN.1 that individuals should know, as they may not be as mild as those associated with other Omicron variants.
“The JN.1 variant distinguishes itself from Pirola or BA. 2.86 through a singular mutation in its spike protein. Although it shares traits with prior Omicron strains, such as high transmissibility and mild symptoms, there are notable symptoms that individuals should be alert to, as they might not be as mild as those associated with other Omicron variants. Critical symptoms of the JN.1 Covid variant that warrant attention include fever, runny nose, sore throat, headache, and, in certain instances, moderate gastrointestinal issues. Some patients may also experience breathing difficulties. It’s crucial to emphasize that, at present, there is no evidence indicating that this variant is more severe or has higher fatality rates in comparison to other variants,” says Dr Kumar.
“While it has high rates of transmissibility, it does not seem to be much more virulent in terms of severity of symptoms. But the severity may also depend on underlying conditions and the overall health of the person who’s infection. This could be their health conditions like diabetes, cholesterol, stress and autoimmune diseases, cancer etc. If you had Covid and you had a severe infection due to which your lungs are scarred, this can allow the new variant to further damage the lungs which makes it difficult for the body to recover and help the body to breathe easily,” says Dr Pavithra.
JN.1 variant symptoms
“JN.1 variant has usual symptoms like fever, fatigue, body ache. It also has mild gastrointestinal symptoms like mild stomach cramps or loose stools. Not the major food poisoning. As a lay person, you cannot find which variant you have. Vaccines available in India, there is no evidence to suggest that they are not effective. If you have vaccinated and boosted, you have done the most in order to protect yourself,” says Dr Pavithra.
“While there is no need for immediate panic, initial findings suggest that JN.1 may not exhibit increased severity compared to earlier Covid variations. Nevertheless, comprehensive research is imperative to fully comprehend its behaviour. Vigilance in monitoring its transmissibility and impact on immunity is essential, and both India and the global community are closely scrutinizing these aspects. To curb the spread of infection, it is vital to adhere to all necessary precautions, including regular handwashing and wearing masks,” concludes Dr Kumar.
“With the given rise in Covid-19 cases, especially the concern about the JN.1 variant, which possibly could have a slightly higher transmissibility than the other current variants, I think people need to be more aware and should be a bit more cautious about the whole situation and not panic. I believe a significant amount of vigilance is required, but there is no need for panic. It is important to set clear precautions that people should take. I think individuals with a high risk of comorbidities, such as those undergoing cancer chemotherapy, the elderly, people with diabetes, and those with uncontrolled hypertension, should definitely wear a mask in crowded places and closed or confined spaces, especially when traveling in a plane, air-conditioned compartment in a train or in a bus. This is the time when they should prioritize wearing a mask to protect themselves. Similarly, people should become a little bit more self -cognizant of the fact that if they are unwell, they should make sure that they do not travel out in open and enclosed spaces with people and if they are stepping out of the house in open space, they wear a mask so that they will be reverse isolating and protecting the other people as well. So I think these few things if we follow the holiday season should be enjoyed by everyone, and it will be safe for everyone,” says Prof. Dr. Rahul Pandit, Chair, Critical Care, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital.