What to know about the latest COVID-19 variant: JN.1

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — We start the new year with a new dominant strain of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the variant dubbed JN.1 is now the most prevalent strain of the virus across the United States and much of the world.

JN.1 was first identified in August 2023 by the World Health Organization and first confirmed in the U.S. by the CDC in September. JN.1 is an offshoot of the omicron variant, just like its predecessor, BA.2.86.

“Think of (the variants) as children and grandchildren of omicron,” Dr. William Schaffner, professor infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told TODAY.com. “They are part of the same extended family, but the each have their own distinctive personalities.

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Most of the symptoms remain the same. However, while loss of taste or smell is a key difference between COVID and a flu or RSV infection, it is becoming less common. The most common symptoms for JN.1 are a sore throat, congestion, cough and fatigue.

Unlike BA.2.86, which fell below experts’ estimates, JN.1 is proving to be more contagious. Both wastewater and testing data shows a rise in infection levels than this time last year — 27% and 17% respectively. Still, CDC officials consider the latest vaccines and treatments effective against JN.1.

The good news is that JN.1 has a lower chance for developing into a severe infection. While our hospitals are busy, COVID-19 hospitalizations are 22% lower than this time last year and the fatality rate from COVID-19 is down 38%.

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“This change in the relationship between infection levels and illness severity is related to greater immune protection levels provided by vaccines, prior infection, or both,” the CDC stated in its Jan. 5 update. “Over 97% of people have natural or vaccine-induced antibodies against the virus that causes COVID-19. This immune protection can fade over time but tends to last longer for preventing severe disease than for preventing infections.”

The CDC says we can still do a lot more to protect our community from another virus surge. As of Dec. 30, 2023, only 19% of adults had received the latest COVID-19 vaccine, and only 8% of children. Only 38% of adults 65 years or older have gotten a dose of the latest vaccine.

The CDC encourages everyone to get an updated vaccine and take precautions when around other people showing signs of illness. Wearing protective masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing can cut down on virus spread. If you feel sick, take a test to determine whether the infection is COVID-19 and talk to a healthcare provider about a treatment plan.

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