The World Health Organization has designated a sub-variant of the Omicron strain, named JN.1, as a “variant of interest” due to its rapid spread. This variant has surfaced in numerous countries worldwide, including India, China, the UK, and the United States.

Despite the prevalent spread of JN.1, the current risk to the public remains low, and existing vaccines continue to provide protection, according to the WHO. Nevertheless, there is a cautionary note as the organization warns of a potential increase in COVID-19 and other infections during the winter season.

In addition to the Omicron dominance, respiratory viruses such as the flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and childhood pneumonia are also on the rise in the northern hemisphere. The ever-evolving nature of the virus-causing Covid contributes to the development of new variants over time.

While the WHO is closely monitoring several Omicron-related variants of interest, including JN.1, none are currently considered alarming. However, JN.1 is rapidly spreading, particularly in the United States, where it is identified as the fastest-growing variant, constituting 15-29% of infections, as reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The UK Health Security Agency notes that JN.1 comprises around 7% of positive COVID tests analyzed in labs and pledges to continue monitoring data on this variant and others.

JN.1’s swift dissemination across regions may be attributed to an additional mutation in the spike protein compared to its ancestor, the BA.2.86 variant.

The WHO’s risk assessment anticipates an increase in Sars-Cov-2 cases with the potential for a surge in other viral and bacterial infections, especially in countries entering the winter season.

While limited evidence exists regarding JN.1’s ability to evade vaccine immunity, there are currently no reports of individuals experiencing more severe illness with this variant than with previous ones. However, further studies are required to understand its health impact, given the reduced availability of data from countries reporting hospital admissions for COVID-19.

To mitigate the risk of infections and severe disease, the WHO recommends preventive measures such as wearing masks in crowded spaces, covering coughs and sneezes, practicing regular hand hygiene, staying updated on COVID and flu vaccinations—especially for vulnerable individuals—staying home when feeling unwell, and getting tested if experiencing symptoms.