What to know about the JN.1 variant of COVID that triggered the national alert in India. Should you be worried?

Dubai: Amid a rise in COVID-19 cases and respiratory illnesses, particularly in Kerala, the Indian government has issued a nationwide alert, urging states to maintain “constant vigilance”.

The first case of the new JN.1, a subvariant of Omicron, was detected in Kerala and the state accounts for 88.78 per cent of the active COVID cases.

According to Indian government data, of the 142 new COVID cases reported on Monday, 115 were from Kerala.

State Health Minister Veena George, however, said there is no reason to panic because “the situation is under control.”

Masks have been recommended for all those visiting hospitals and with Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi recording a higher number of cases, extreme caution is advised in these two places.

The Indian government advisory said: “In view of the upcoming festive season, it is necessary to implement necessary public health measures and other arrangements to minimize the risk of increased transmission of the disease by complying with the maintenance of respiratory hygiene.” .

The government also directed states to monitor the emergence of respiratory diseases in the districts.

Furthermore, state administrations are asked to ensure COVID testing in accordance with the established guidelines. “Ensure increased number of RT-PCR tests and send positive samples for genome sequencing to Indian SARS COV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) laboratories to enable timely detection of new variants, if any.” “said the notice.

“Promote community awareness to seek their continued support in managing COVID-19, including compliance with respiratory hygiene,” he added.

With 142 new COVID infections on Monday, the number of cases reached 1,970. On Saturday and Sunday, 260 and 335 cases were recorded respectively, while one death was reported in Kerala and another in the neighboring state of Karnataka, India’s Health Ministry said.

The ministry is in regular touch with the Kerala Health department, which oversees various entry points.

So what is subvariant JN.1?

JN.1 is closely related to BA.2.86, a fellow Omicron descendant that first appeared in the US in September. The two variants are nearly identical, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), except for a single difference in their spike proteins, the part of the virus that allows it to invade human cells.

The fact that JN.1 is responsible for a growing share of U.S. infections suggests it is more contagious or better at overcoming our body’s immune defenses than previous iterations of the virus, the CDC says.

But there is no evidence that it causes more serious illness.

At this time, there is nothing to suggest that JN.1 is more dangerous than other viral strains, although it may cause an increase in transmission, the CDC says.

What are the symptoms of the new variant?

The primary symptoms are likely to be the same as the previous variants: sore or itchy throat, fatigue, headache, congestion, cough, and fever.

Do vaccines, tests and treatments work against JN.1?

So far, the signs are positive, the CDC says. COVID-19 tests and treatments are expected to be effective against JN.1. And although the latest COVID-19 booster vaccine was designed to target the XBB.1.5 variant, preliminary research suggests it also generates antibodies that work against JN.1, although in smaller quantities. (As always, vaccines will not completely block JN.1 infections, but they should reduce the chance of death and severe illness.)

In a statement on December 13, the WHO COVID-19 Vaccine Expert Advisory Group recommended sticking with the current XBB.1.5 vaccines as they appear to provide at least some cross-protection.

What does the WHO say?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has not classified JN.1 as a variant of concern, that is, a new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with the potential for greater severity; decreased vaccine effectiveness; or substantial impacts on the delivery of health care.

In the wake of rising respiratory illnesses and the new JN.1 subvariant of COVID, the WHO said the virus is evolving and changing and urged member states to continue strong surveillance and sequence sharing.

Is there any cause for concern?

Kerala Health Minister Veena George has assured people that there is nothing to worry about. Veena, however, appealed to the public to remain alert.

“There is no need to worry. This is a subvariant (JN.1 substrain of COVID-19). Two or three months ago it was detected in Indians when they were tested at the Singapore airport,” George said.

“Because Kerala’s healthcare system is so good, we were able to detect it through genomic sequencing. There is no need to worry. We are closely monitoring the situation. But we should be alert. People with comorbidities must be taken care of,” he added.

While most cases in Kerala are reported to be clinically mild, health authorities emphasize the importance of continuous surveillance and preparedness to effectively manage the evolving situation related to COVID-19 variants.

What are neighboring states doing?

As a result of the rise in the number of COVID cases in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the Health and Family Welfare Services Commission on Tuesday issued an advisory with multiple guidelines amid fears of a fresh surge during the Christmas and New Year celebrations. .

All senior citizens aged 60 years and above, people with comorbidities (kidney, heart, liver diseases), pregnant women, nursing mothers have been advised to wear masks when outdoors and also strictly avoid visiting closed spaces, poorly ventilated and crowded. areas, according to the guidelines.

Telangana reported four COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and people are urged to be cautious and avoid travelling.

Children under 10 years old, pregnant mothers and people over 60 years old are advised to avoid going outdoors unless necessary.

Why are Uttarakhand hospitals on high alert?

The Uttarakhand government is on high alert and the health secretary has directed all district magistrates and chief medical officers (CMOs) to follow guidelines for COVID prevention in hospitals. Additionally, respiratory, pulmonary and cardiac patients should be closely monitored, and people with influenza cases should be tested, according to the advisory.

How about India’s preparation?

A mock drill has just been completed in all state health centers that assessed public health and hospital preparedness. This exercise was supervised by the district collectors.

The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), a network of genomic laboratories, has been actively monitoring the genomic aspects of COVID-19 in India.

Detection of the JN.1 subvariant is in line with revised surveillance guidelines that involve screening patients with influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) for COVID-19. Positive cases are then referred for whole genome sequencing (WGS).

The specific case of JN.1 was identified in an RT-PCR positive sample from Karakulam, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, on December 8.

Why did Singapore issue a travel warning?

After a sharp rise in COVID cases to 56,043 in the first week of December, Singapore issued a travel warning. The island country saw an increase of around 24,000 cases between December 3 and 9 compared to the 32,035 reported the previous week.

The average daily COVID hospitalizations also increased to 350 from 225 the previous week, and the average daily cases in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) increased to nine cases compared to four cases the previous week, the Ministry of Health reported. Singapore Health in an update.

According to the ministry, the vast majority of new cases are due to the JN.1 variant.

Singapore has urged the public to “exercise personal and social responsibility”. They have asked people who are unwell with symptoms of acute respiratory infection to stay home until their symptoms disappear and avoid contact with other people. “If they have to come into contact while unwell, they should exercise social responsibility by wearing a mask, minimizing their social interactions and avoiding crowded places.”

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