As the Covid pandemic continues to evolve, a new strain identified as JN.1 is raising concerns among health experts across Europe. Detected in the UK, alongside France, Iceland, Portugal, and Spain, this variant is a descendant of the Pirola variant, which in turn evolved from Omicron.
Scientists are cautioning that the JN.1 strain seems to be more transmissible than previous variants. According to Thomas Russo, the Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Buffalo, data suggests that JN.1’s parent, BA.2.86, might have increased transmissibility. With JN.1 stemming from BA.2.86, the concern intensifies. However, there is a glimmer of hope as the updated vaccines are believed to be closer to the JN.1 in structure, potentially offering protection against severe disease.
The JN.1 strain has presented with symptoms akin to previous Covid variants, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, and loss of taste or smell, among others. The NHS advises that those with mild symptoms may manage their care at home and resume normal activities once they feel better.
The NHS recommends staying at home and avoiding contact with others for a few days after testing positive. This duration varies depending on age, with a shorter isolation period suggested for children and young people. It’s also advised to avoid contact with individuals at higher risk of serious illness for 10 days following a positive test.
Amid the spread of JN.1, the UK is also witnessing the expansion of the Pirola variant. UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data showed a significant increase in positive cases, with a notable 29.4% jump in the last week of September. Pirola has been reported in over 15 countries, featuring additional mutations that raise concerns about vaccine evasion.
Hospital admissions and Covid-related deaths in the UK have seen a sharp increase. The UKHSA’s chief medical advisor, Susan Hopkins, indicated that, while it’s too early to confirm, initial data doesn’t suggest an increase in the severity of illness caused by the Pirola variant.
In response to the emergence of Pirola, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has moved up the autumn vaccine programme. Though millions of vaccines have been administered, there is still a significant portion of the eligible population that has yet to receive their doses.