JN.1 cautions

Reem Leila , Tuesday 2 Jan 2024

A new Covid-19 variant has been detected in Egypt, reports Reem Leila

Citizens are urged to take precautionary measures to protect themselves against the new variant / Ph
Citizens are urged to take precautionary measures to protect themselves against the new variant / Photo: AFP


The Ministry of Health has confirmed the infection of two people with the new coronavirus variant JN.1. In a press release, the ministry said that the health of the two was stable and they did not need to be hospitalised because their symptoms were minor and impacted mainly their upper respiratory system.

Medical professionals have described the novel JN.1 variation as highly transmissible. Hossam Hosni, head of the Scientific Committee for Combating Covid-19 at the Ministry of Health, has urged citizens to take precautions.

However, Hosni said symptoms are not severe and that Covid-19 vaccines provided significant protection against the variant. According to Hosni, JN.1 does not cause lower respiratory tract infections, pulmonary infections, oxygen deficiency or severe breathing difficulties, which leads to body aches, chronic headaches and throat infections.

He emphasised that while the variant is part of the Omicron variant, it is less severe than previous coronavirus variants. To differentiate between regular influenza and the new variant, certain tests and examinations are required.

“People must return to wearing masks, as it is a commendable and preventive practice to protect against infection and reduce the spread of the virus,” Hosni said, adding that even though children still have natural immunity that protects them against severe Covid-19 symptoms, they are not immune to infection. He stressed that Covid-19 affects individuals of all ages, making it essential to receive new vaccines developed for Covid-19.

Mustafa Mohamed, head of the Vaccines Department at Egypt’s Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (VACSERA), said there is no specific vaccine for the new variant. He said there are vaccines for influenza and others for Covid-19. “However, existing vaccines currently provide some protection against various Covid-19 variants.”

According to Mohamed, the Ministry of Health administers four vaccines to those eligible for vaccinations or required to take Covid-19 vaccines. Those who have received a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine are allowed to take a booster shot. For those who have not received the Covid-19 vaccine, they are advised to take a dose of the currently available vaccines which provides some protection against viruses and their variants, including the new JN.1 strain.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified the subvariant of the Omicron lineage of the coronavirus as a “variant of concern” due to its rapid spread. JN.1 has been found in at least 41 countries worldwide.

The WHO is currently monitoring several variants of interest associated with Omicron, including JN.1, though none are considered alarming. It is currently the fastest growing type in the US, representing 15-29 per cent of infections, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Health Service in the UK states that JN.1 currently constitutes about seven per cent of positive Covid-19 tests analysed in laboratories.

WHO’s risk assessment stated that “this variant is expected to lead to an increase in cases of SARS-CoV-2 [coronavirus] amid rising viral and other bacterial infections, especially in countries entering the winter season.”

WHO said there was limited evidence regarding JN.1’s ability to overcome vaccine-provided immunity.

To prevent infection and severe illness, WHO advises wearing masks in crowded and enclosed areas, covering the mouth when coughing and sneezing, regular hand cleaning, staying informed about Covid and influenza vaccinations, especially for those at higher risk, staying home if sick, and undergoing necessary tests if experiencing symptoms.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 January, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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