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May 23, 2024

New Covid Variant JN.1 Causing Concerns in Kerala and Beyond

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Dec 16, 2023

A new Covid subvariant called JN.1 has been detected in a sample from Kerala, raising worries that it may spread more easily than past strains. The variant combines mutations seen in BA.2 and BA.2.75, potentially making it adept at immune evasion.

JN.1 Found in Kerala Woman, Also Detected in US and China

The JN.1 subvariant was discovered in a test sample sequenced from a 39-year-old woman in Kerala according to reports on December 12th. Additionally, small numbers of JN.1 infections have been spotted in China and the variant has begun circulating at low levels in the US.

JN.1 descends from the BA.2 Omicron lineage but contains additional mutations that could confer a degree of immune evasion and transmissibility advantages over past variants. Initial observations found JN.1 to have extensive changes in the Spike RBD area, the portion of the virus targeted by antibodies.

According to Dr. Rajeev Jayadevan, scientific advisor in Kerala, “This variant is markedly different from prior versions of the virus and has extensive mutations that may enable it to escape prior immunity.”

So far JN.1 case counts remain low globally, but its rapid growth wherever detected reveals its high transmissibility. Chinese officials have designated JN.1 as a variant under monitoring due to these worrying traits.

Concerns Over JN.1’s Combination of Mutations

Experts explain that JN.1 bringing together mutations from BA.2 and BA.2.75 is particularly concerning, as it combines evasive capabilities:

“The combination of mutations is alarming as both point to increased transmissibility and/or immune evasion,” said Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist.

JN.1 has more extensive alterations around the RBD area than variants like BQ.1.1, meaning it could more easily slip past existing antibodies. The specific combination of changes may also enable greater binding affinity to host cells.

“The RBD mutations are extensive, implying either very strong binding to the ACE2 receptor for entry, or significant evasion of antibodies,” Dr. Jayadevan added.

These traits signal the potential for fast spread as well as COVID reinfections and breakthrough cases. JN.1-driven waves could arise even in heavily immune populations.

JN.1 Emergence Coinciding With Upswings Across US and China

The JN.1 discovery arises as parts of China witness a rebound in infections due to variants like BF.7 and BQ.1. Newer strains made up over 70% of cases in Beijing as of early December.

Similarly, updated CDC estimates show emerging variants such as BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 contributing over 30% of U.S cases. These newer strains excel at dodging prior antibody protection. The additions of JN.1 cases on top of such trends paint an increasingly complex picture for the virus’ evolution.

Country Dominant Variants
China BF.7, BQ.1
United States BQ.1.1, BQ.1

Chinese officials have warned residents to take precautions around Lunar New Year travel as movement could spread concerning new strains wider. US health leaders urge caution as well with holiday mingling on the upswing. The layered spread of adept variants threatens to drive additional waves of infection regionally and globally.

Mitigation Efforts Still Crucial; Vaccines Likely Retain Protection Against Severe Disease

Kerala’s Health Minister Veena George stressed that while the general public should not panic, authorities would reinforce genomic surveillance and containment zones if positive samples rose. She advised residents to mask up in crowded settings regardless of regulations being relaxed.

US President Joe Biden and other world leaders recently coordinated to pledge over $350 million towards next generation vaccines to fend off troubling new variants in 2023/2024.

Researchers maintain confidence that existing vaccines will still guard well against dire outcomes:

“Current vaccines continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death,” noted John Bell, a professor of medicine at Oxford University in the UK. Boosters tweaked against Omicron strains are likely to retain solid effectiveness against emerging variants like JN.1 as well.

Nevertheless, the persisting evolution of the virus demands sustained vigilance via testing, genomic sequencing, isolation of emerging clusters, mask usage and improved indoor airflow. Experts concur that doubling down on these common-sense precautions gives humans our best shot at staying a step ahead.

Outlook Hazy but Viral Movement Lends Uncertainty

The outlook for JN.1 specifically remains uncertain; it may fizzle out swiftly or slowly expand its footprint like BQ.1 before it. But its advent emphasizes SARS-CoV-2’s ongoing capacity to unleash fits and starts of transmission by working around built up immunity.

JN.1 and sibling strains will continue exploiting any lapses in surveillance and countermeasures. Dr. Jayadevan concluded by reinforcing this reality:

“Constant, ongoing evolution of this virus is an inescapable part of its existence. New subvariants will continue to emerge.”

With much of the holiday season still ahead, people are advised to exercise judicious precautions in their social activities and travel. Getting up to date on the latest vaccine doses remains the best route for sustaining defenses against both current and emergent viral offshoots.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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