How serious is the ongoing increase in Covid-19 cases in India and globally?

Winter is when respiratory infections see an increase, but the situation just got trickier with the presence of RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus) , Avian influenza and now JN.1, a sub-variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused Covid-19 in the first place.

India recently reported a case of JN.1 from Kerala, as part of routine surveillance and genome sequencing by INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium), a network of genomic laboratories. This surveillance picks up on people with influenza-like illness (ILI) and Severe Acute Respiratory Illness.

Presently, countries like Singapore are not taking a chance with the spike in numbers they are witnessing, and have advised people to wear masks in crowded places. In fact, Karnataka too has just advised masks for the elderly.

What is the new variant which is causing this surge? Where was it first discovered?

JN.1 is closely related to the variant BA.2.86, says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). JN.1 was first detected in the US in September 2023. By the end of October, it made up less than 0.1 per cent of SARS-CoV-2 viruses, it added.

How infectious is the JN.1 variant?

“The continued growth of JN.1 suggests that it is either more transmissible or better at evading our immune systems. At this time, there is no evidence that JN.1 presents an increased risk to public health relative to other currently circulating variants. There is no indication of increased severity from JN.1 at this time,” says the CDC.

So, while increased transmission may lead to an increase in case numbers and hospitalisations, it should settle soon say epidemiologists.

Is there a need to isolate those infected? What precautions need to be taken?

The symptoms are similar to that of other SARS-CoV-2 variants, says India’s Health Ministry. So, doctors are seeing, fevers, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat, cough, fatigue etc. The advice remains unchanged – stay home when any of these symptoms show up and report to a doctor if it gets worse, persists, or the person is immunity compromised or elderly.

And for those who are travelling or in crowded places, the public health measures of hand-washing, distance as much as is possible and masking is what the doctors advise, especially with year-end festivities round the corner.

How effective are the vaccines already taken, in fighting against this variant?

The existing line of treatment for Covid-19 is expected to be effective against this variant as well, says the Union Health Ministry. While there is no advisory on taking a booster shot, doctors advise targeted vaccination for individuals who may have a compromised immunity system and the elderly, if required. Updates vaccines are expected to increase protection, the Ministry added.