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Everything you need to know about JN.1, the latest COVID variant

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  • A new variant of COVID-19 has been detected in the United States

  • JN.1 is causing a growing number of cases worldwide.

  • There are fears that the variant is highly contagious.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is mutating again. The latest variant to create buzz is JN.1, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in a report released late last week.

In the report, CDC officials say they are “learning” about JN.1, noting that it is not very common in the United States at this time. Still, infectious disease experts say there’s a reason this variant has been reported and why researchers are monitoring it.

So, what is JN.1 and why is it getting attention right now? Here’s everything you need to know about the latest variant.

What is JN.1?

JN.1 is a COVID-19 variant that originated from BA.2.86, says infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. JN.1 is “another variant of Omicron,” he says.

“BA.2.86 has more than 20 mutations on the spike protein, and when it was first detected a while ago, there was a question whether, wow, this could be a real problem,” says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and head of the Department of Infectious Diseases. at the University at Buffalo in New York.

JN.1 has an additional mutation on its spike protein from BA.2.86, which SARS-CoV-2 uses to latch onto your cells and make you sick, Dr. Russo says.

JN.1 symptoms

So far, there is no data to suggest that JN.1 causes different symptoms than previous variations of COVID-19, says William Schaffner, MD, professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “It’s a variation of Omicron and it looks similar,” he says. In case you need a reminder, the CDC says these symptoms may include:

How contagious is JN.1?

This remains to be determined. “Some data suggests that the BA.2.86 parent of JN.1 may be more transmissible than previous variants,” says Dr. Russo. “Since JN.1 is a derivative of BA.2.86, there is concern that it may no longer be transmissible.”

But Dr. Adalja points out that while BA.2.86 caused a lot of concern when it was first detected, it hasn’t really spread. “There is no evidence that this variant, at this time, will behave differently,” says Dr. Adalja.

Should we be worried about JN.1?

Currently, JN.1 only accounts for less than 0.1% of COVID-19 viruses, according to the CDC. That said, it is gaining momentum in other countries.

“JN.1 has been described in a number of countries, including the United States, Iceland, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands,” says Dr Russo. “It’s also becoming more and more common in France, it seems to be taking off.”

JN.1 also has a mutation on its spike protein that “seems to make it much more immune-evasive than its parents,” Dr. Russo says, adding that the variant is “pretty sneaky.”

JN.1, like BA.2.86, is also different from other strains, says Dr. Russo. “As a result, we risk getting more infections,” he says.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine protect against JN.1?

It’s hard to say at this point. The CDC notes that the Spike protein is the part of the virus targeted by vaccines and, therefore, the updated COVID-19 vaccine should work against JN.1. The CDC also points out that existing data shows that the updated COVID-19 vaccines for 2023-2024 help our immune systems block BA.2.86. “We expect JN.1 to be similar,” the CDC says.

“The updated vaccine is closer to JN.1 than to our old vaccine,” explains Dr. Russo. “The hope is that even if we see more cases of JN.1, the updated vaccine will protect against severe disease. »

How to protect yourself against JN.1 and other variants

JN.1 and other COVID-19 variants exist and will continue to circulate, Dr. Adalja says. “This is an endemic respiratory virus,” he says. “It’s one of the viruses that humans will always face.”

But Dr. Schaffner says there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting sick. “Please take advantage” of the updated COVID booster, he said. “Its acceptance has been so dismal across the country. We in public health and infectious disease are very concerned about this.

If you’re considered at high risk for complications from COVID-19, Dr. Schaffner says it’s time to consider wearing a mask again. “If you’re going to the supermarket, to church services, to a concert…any time you’re in an indoor public space with other people, put that mask back on,” he says.

And, if you contract COVID-19, contact your doctor to see if you qualify for antiviral medication. “The key is to ensure that high-risk people are protected with updated vaccines and are quickly prescribed an antiviral if they become infected,” says Dr. Adalja.

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