A subvariant of the omicron mutation of the Covid-19 virus has been classified as a “variant of interest” by the WHO (World Health Organization), due to “its rapidly increasing spread”.
The JN.1 subvariant has been found in many countries around the world, including India, China and the United States.
The risk to the public is low and current vaccines continue to offer protection, according to the WHO.
But the news raised a warning that Covid-19 and other infections could increase in the winter (in the northern hemisphere).
Viruses that impact the respiratory system such as influenza, childhood pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are also increasing in the northern hemisphere.
The virus that causes Covid is constantly changing over time and sometimes this leads to the development of new variants.
Omicron has been the dominant variant in the world for some time.
The WHO says it is continuously monitoring the spread of the JN.1 omicron subvariant and will issue updates as necessary.
The organization is currently tracking a number of Covid “variants of concern”, but none are considered to be of concern.
The JN.1 subvariant is spreading rapidly in all regions, probably because it has an additional mutation in the protein spike when compared to the BA.2.86 variant from which it descends.
“It is expected that this variant could cause an increase in Sars-Cov-2 cases [coronavírus] amid a rise in other viral and bacterial infections, especially in countries entering the winter season,” says the WHO risk assessment.
Evidence on JN.1’s ability to defeat the immunity offered by vaccines is limited, says the WHO.
There are no reports of people becoming sicker with this variant than the previous ones.
But more studies are needed, says the WHO, as the number of countries reporting data on people admitted to hospitals with Covid-19 has drastically decreased.
To prevent serious infections and illnesses, the WHO advises:
- Wear masks in closed and crowded areas;
- cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing;
- clean your hands regularly;
- stay up to date with covid and flu vaccinations, especially if you are vulnerable;
- stay home if you are sick;
- get tested if you have symptoms.