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New coronavirus variant JN.1 is spreading fast. Here’s what to know

The World Health Organization on Tuesday declared coronavirus subvariant JN.1 a variant of interest “due to its rapidly increasing spread.”

It made up about 3 percent of all coronavirus cases in early November, but 27.1 percent a month later globally, the WHO said. It anticipates JN.1’s emergence may cause an increase in cases, especially in countries experiencing winter.

The WHO designation came after emergency room visits in the United States for COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus collectively reached their highest levels since February, The Washington Post reported last week, ahead of the holiday period.

Here’s what to know about JN.1.

What is JN.1?

JN.1 evolved from variant BA.2.86, a descendant of omicron, the variant of the coronavirus that wreaked havoc in early 2022. JN.1 has an additional spike protein mutation compared with its parent. It was first reported in August.

But the WHO does not expect JN.1 to bring a significant additional public health risk based on available evidence. Its overall risk evaluation of the variant is “low.”

“While there is a rapid increase in JN.1 infections, and likely increase in cases, available limited evidence does not suggest that the associated disease severity is higher,” it said.

What are JN.1’s symptoms?

It is not known whether JN.1’s symptoms differ significantly from other variants, and there is no indication it is more severe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The types of symptoms and how severe they are usually depend more on a person’s immunity and overall health rather than which variant causes the infection,” it said.

General COVID-19 symptoms include fever, chills, coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends getting an updated coronavirus vaccine to increase protection against JN.1. It said existing coronavirus tests, treatments and vaccines are expected to work against the variant, similar to the way they work against others. The recommended vaccines in the United States are those from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax.

Where is JN.1 spreading?

JN.1 has been recorded in 41 countries. The nations with the largest proportion of JN.1 cases are France, the United States, Singapore, Canada, the United Kingdom and Sweden, according to the WHO.

It first appeared in the United States in September and is the fastest growing variant in the country, the CDC said on Dec. 8.

What is a variant of interest?

The WHO designation “variant of interest” is applied to variants of the coronavirus that appear to be growing faster than others and that have genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics. These could include transmissibility, virulence, antibody evasion, susceptibility to therapeutics and detectability.

The designation triggers responsibilities for the WHO and its member states related to monitoring and gathering and sharing information.

It is less serious than “variant of concern,” which is applied to strains that are more severe, cause a substantial burden on the health system, or that vaccines are less effective against. These have Greek letter names such as delta and omicron.

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