“JN.1 is a severely immune-evasive and fast-spreading variant, markedly different from XBB and all other prior versions of this virus. This enables it to infect people who had previous Covid infections and also people who were vaccinated,” Rajeev Jayadevan, the National Indian Medical Association Covid Task Force’s co-chairman, said
The Covid subvariant JN.1, a descendant of BA.2.86, has been detected in parts of Kerala, triggering concerns about its impact. The India SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), which is a multi-laboratory, multi-agency, pan-India network tasked with sequencing and keeping an eye on new threatening Covid-19 variants, has done surveillance where JN.1 has been found in Kerala.
Speaking to ANI, Chief of INSACOG, NK. Arora, said, “This variant has been isolated and reported in November; this is a subvariant of BA.2.86. We have some cases of JN.1.”
India is keeping a vigil and that’s the reason no hospitalisation or severe disease has been reported so far, he added.
JN.1 was first detected in September 2023 in the United States.
The reported symptoms include fever, runny nose, sore throat, headache, and, in some cases, mild gastrointestinal symptoms.
The Union Ministry of Health has initiated preparedness measures after a case of the JN.1 subvariant of COVID has been identified in Kerala as part of the ongoing routine surveillance conducted by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), said a government release on Saturday. Dr Rajiv Bahl, Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), confirmed this development during a press briefing in New Delhi.
A mock drill is underway in health facilities across states, evaluating public health and hospital readiness. This exercise, overseen by district collectors, commenced on December 13 and is scheduled for completion by December 18, 2023.
The Union Ministry of Health maintains regular communication with the State Department of Health in Kerala and closely monitors various points of entry.
While the majority of cases in Kerala are reported to be clinically mild, the health authorities emphasize the importance of ongoing vigilance and preparedness to effectively manage the evolving situation related to COVID-19 variants. The India SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), a network of Genomic Laboratories, has been actively monitoring the genomic aspects of COVID-19 in India.
The detection of the JN.1 subvariant is in line with revised surveillance guidelines that involve testing patients with Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) and Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) for COVID-19. Positive cases are then referred for Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS). The specific case of JN.1 was identified in an RT-PCR positive sample from Karakulam, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, on 8th December 2023. The patient, who initially tested positive on November 18, 2023, experienced mild symptoms of ILI and has since recovered from COVID-19.
Earlier today, a senior consultant in Chest Medicine at Delhi’s Ganga Ram Hospital, Dr Ujjwal Prakash, addressed the emergence of this variant, underlining that while there’s no need for panic, vigilance is crucial. Prakash explained that JN.1, similar to other variants and sub-variants observed globally, is a mild variant causing upper respiratory symptoms.
The doctor emphasized that most patients experience these mild upper respiratory symptoms, which typically improve within four to five days.
According to Rajeev Jayadevan, the National Indian Medical Association Covid Task Force’s co-chairman, “After a seven-month gap, cases are rising in India. In Kerala, there are reports of people getting Covid, but the severity so far appears to be the same as before.
“Genome sequencing pinpoints what type of virus is circulating in each region. For example, in India, during the April 2023 wave, XBB sublineages were found to cause it. However, the December genome sequencing results are still coming in and early results show that a JN.1 case was found in Kerala,” he added.
Jayadevan said that the JN.1 variant is capable of spreading faster and evading immunity.
“JN.1 is a severely immune-evasive and fast-spreading variant, markedly different from XBB and all other prior versions of this virus. This enables it to infect people who had previous Covid infections and also people who were vaccinated,” he said.
Rajeev Jayadevan also noted that JN.1 has been reported in various countries. “JN.1 is rising quickly in several Western countries, and India being connected by international travel with the rest of the world should be no exception,” he said.