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Global concerns rise as JN.1 subvariant sparks COVID-19 surge across nations

Global surge in COVID-19 cases attributed to JN.1 subvariant, linked to BA.2.86. CDC alerts on unknown symptoms, vaccine effectiveness maintained.

JN.1 impact seen in the US, Singapore, India, China, UK, Indonesia, and Malaysia, urging ongoing monitoring and collaboration.

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COVID-19 cases in several countries have surged again due to several causes, with one significant cause being the appearance of a novel subvariant of the virus.

The recent uptick in cases across several countries has been specifically linked to the emergence of the new JN.1 variant.

The JN.1 variant, initially identified in September 2023, is closely related to the BA.2.86 variant, known as Pirola.

Differing by just one additional mutation in the spike protein, Pirola, previously flagged as a “variant of interest,” harbored over 39 spike protein mutations compared to its predecessor.

These mutations on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein are crucial as they facilitate the virus’s entry into human cells by binding to receptors.

Concerns about JN.1 primarily revolve around potential attributes, with health officials suspecting increased transmissibility and the possibility of enhanced immune system evasion, prompting alarm in the scientific community.

However, it’s crucial to note that there is currently no definitive evidence suggesting that JN.1 leads to more severe illness compared to other prevalent variants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning, stating that it lacks information on whether the strain induces distinct symptoms compared to earlier coronavirus variants.

Simultaneously, the agency has expressed concerns that JN.1 exhibits an increased ability to evade the immune system compared to other prevalent variants, heightening worries about its potential for enhanced transmissibility.

Professor Clare Bryant, specializing in innate immunity at the University of Cambridge, expressed that BA.2.86 is likely to become the most prevalent variant.

Notably, JN.1 exhibits “interesting” variations, some not observed since the Alpha and Beta variants in 2020 and 2021. While nothing definitive has been observed, she highlighted the potential for it to evade our immune systems more effectively.

Speaking to Sky News, she explained, “The change in the spike protein will probably correlate to it being more infectious.”

“And that’s what’s caused us the most problems so far – because you can’t control something that’s that infectious.”

The World Health Organization (WHO), however, has not officially designated JN.1 as a variant of concern.

Preliminary reports, although anecdotal, hint at a notable trend: emerging variants like JN.1 may exhibit a higher prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal pain and diarrhea.

While this observation necessitates further validation through thorough studies, it underscores the dynamic nature of COVID-19 and emphasizes the significance of closely monitoring variant-specific symptom profiles.

A crucial element in addressing this novel variant involves evaluating its responsiveness to existing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Promisingly, initial signs suggest that the latest vaccines continue to be effective against JN.1. Nevertheless, sustained research and surveillance are essential to guarantee the ongoing efficacy of current medical interventions against this variant.

In a statement on 13 December, the WHO expert advisory group on COVID-19 vaccines suggested maintaining the use of the existing XBB.1.5 vaccines, as they appear to offer at least partial cross-protection.

Several nations have identified instances of JN.1 within their borders.

United States

Initially identified in the U.S. in September, JN.1 exhibited a gradual spread.

In recent weeks, it has gained prominence, representing an increasing proportion of test samples sequenced by CDC-affiliated labs.

Surpassing 20% of all cases identified during the two weeks concluding on 9 December, projections suggest it may contribute to at least half of new infections in the U.S. by the end of December.

Singapore

Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) disclosed a substantial surge in COVID-19 infections, reaching 56,043 in the week of 3 to 9 December.

This represents a remarkable 75 % increase compared to the previous week’s count of 32,035 cases, raising heightened concerns among health officials.

In a press release, the Ministry indicated that the majority of COVID-19 cases in Singapore are currently attributed to JN.1, although the specific percentage of patients affected by this variant was not specified.

India

Indian authorities are expressing heightened concern following the report of four deaths in a single day in Kerala, the original site where the JN.1 subvariant of the coronavirus was detected. Additionally, 1,144 positive cases were reported.

On 8 December, Dr. Rajiv Bahl, the Director General of ICMR, reported the detection of a case in a Karakulam, Thiruvananthapuram district, Kerala, RT-PCR positive specimen.

It is said that a female patient exhibited moderate influenza-like illness (ILI) symptoms and has successfully recovered from COVID-19.

As per the Free Press Journal, the Union Ministry maintains daily communication with the Kerala Health Department, closely monitoring the situation.

China

In approximately one month, the Chinese mainland has identified seven cases of the COVID-19 subvariant JN.1.

The National Disease Control and Prevention Administration suggests that the potential for the variant to become a predominant strain in the country cannot be dismissed.

Currently, on the Chinese mainland, the predominant strains are still EG.5 and its associated subvariants.

“While the current prevalence of the JN.1 variant in China is exceptionally low,  the potential for the variant to become a dominant epidemic strain in the country cannot be ruled out, given the subsequent impact of international epidemic strains and imported cases,” the administration noted.

United Kingdom

The UK witnessed a substantial surge in COVID-19 cases in the seven days leading up to 6 December, recording a staggering 5,227 cases.

This marked a 26.5% increase compared to the previous seven days.

Researchers discovered that EG.5.1 remains the predominant variant in the UK, constituting approximately 36% of cases. Following closely are XBB and XBB.1.16, accounting for 25% and 14%, respectively, as the second and third most prevalent variants. JN.1 is reported to comprise around 13% of all cases reported.

Indonesia

The Ministry of Health (MoH) in Indonesia has confirmed the presence of the JN.1 variant of the coronavirus. According to data from whole genome sequencing (WGS), there have been four reported cases of JN.1 in the country.

Maxi Rein Rondonuwu, the Director General of Disease Prevention and Control (P2P) at the Ministry of Health, highlighted that among the four cases, one each has been identified in South Jakarta, East Jakarta, North Jakarta, and Batam

Maxi reported that the cases in South and East Jakarta were detected on 17 November.

Subsequently, one case in North Jakarta was identified on 23 November, and another case in Batam was confirmed on 13 December.

He affirmed that all patients have received treatment from the local health office.

Malaysia

According to The Star, seven infections of the COVID-19 sub-variant JN.1 have been detected in the country, the National Disease Control and Prevention Administration said.

The authorities on 15 December said the prevalence level of JN.1 was currently “very low” but could not rule out the possibility of it becoming the dominant strain in China due to factors that included imported cases.

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“existing XBB.1.5 vaccines, as they appear to offer at least partial cross-protection.”

many many doubts…

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