How dangerous is the JN.1 COVID-19 Variant?

JN.1 COVID variant is currently being tracked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a variant of interest (VOI), distinct from the rest of the Omicron BA.2.86 group.

The COVID-19 variant is currently the fastest-spreading variant; it was originally discovered in the United States back in September.

The WHO’s decision is made at the same time when respiratory ailment diagnoses are rising and travel is increasing in the run-up to the holidays.

What you should know about JN.1, according to specialists, includes whether or not it can be treated with current vaccines.

How Serious is a Variant of Interest?

A variation of interest (VOI) is simply something public health specialists wish to monitor; it’s not the most concerning level. In terms of variation classifications, it is ranked third.

  • Variant of high consequence (VOHC)
  • Variant of concern (VOC)
  • Variant of interest (VOI)
  • Variants being monitored (VBM)

Right now, the WHO does not believe that JN.1 represents a more significant danger to public health than other variants because it does not seem to be increasing hospital admissions or illness rates.

But compared to other strains that are circulating, it does appear to be spreading and eluding immunity more readily. Dean Winslow, MD, a professor of medicine and senior fellow at Stanford Health Care, said that “we have seen only a minimal uptick in serious cases.”

However, COVID-19 detection in wastewater has significantly increased at Stanford, Santa Clara County, and other San Francisco Bay Area counties, indicating that while the number of cases may be rising, many of them are probably moderate or asymptomatic.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, JN.1 is emerging as the dominant strain in the U.S. While the current risk assessment by the WHO is low, monitoring it will help researchers get a better idea of whether it has the potential to be more of a public health risk.

Compared to prior versions like Delta and the SARS-CoV-2 original strain from early 2020, the American Medical Association (AMA) stated that although JN.1 seems to be more transmissible, researchers don’t expect it will produce an increase in serious sickness or hospitalizations.

Variants of COVID will continue to emerge, according to Tara Vijayan, MD, a clinician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“I suspect people are getting variant fatigue. SARS-CoV2 is still here and it is not going anywhere. It remains contagious,” she said.

“Vulnerable people (immunocompromised, older adults) remain at the highest risk. These truths have been consistent throughout the pandemic, even with newer variants.”

So far, JN.1 seems to be causing the same symptoms as other COVID variants, including:

  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches 
  • Muscle aches
  • Change in sense of smell or taste

But keep in mind that RSV and the flu both generate symptoms that are similar. Until you have a positive test result, you won’t be able to confirm that you have COVID.

Will Current Vaccines Protect Against JN.1?

The JN.1 variant will be protected against by the upgraded COVID vaccinations. The current booster shots are based on Omicron, which is where 99% of variations originate, according to the CDC.

Maintaining your booster dose schedule will help ward off serious sickness in the event that you do become unwell, lower the risk of reinfection, and possibly lower your risk of having long-term COVID.

How to Avoid Getting COVID

Right before the holidays, COVID, the flu, and RSV are all becoming more prevalent.

“We have seen all three viruses in high numbers,” Vijayan said. “RSV seems to have peaked in late November, but we must be vigilant throughout. Flu and Covid are both on the upswing.

“There are many other viruses out there as well, all of which can be severe among patients with lowered immune systems (i.e. those on specific medications to lower the immune system), those with underlying lung disease and those at the extremes of age (newborns, older adults).”

The most fundamental, time-tested methods of preventing illness include still washing your hands properly and avoiding sick people. Additional actions suggested by experts consist of:

  • Getting vaccinated with a COVID booster, flu shot, and RSV vaccine (if you are eligible)
  • Staying home if you are sick 
  • Wearing a medical-grade face mask or respirator (N95 or KN95) in crowded places
  • Washing your hands correctly and often
  • Taking a COVID test if you have symptoms
  • Asking your provider about Paxlovid if you test positive for COVID
  • Staying hydrated, nourished, and well-rested

We are in much better form than we were two years ago, but we still advise wearing masks at indoor public events, while avoiding crowded indoor bars and restaurants. Still, we wish all the readers of Healing and Nutrition have a happy Christmas and holiday season!