Scientists warn new Covid variant could become dominant strain worldwide

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A team of scientists in Japan have suggested the JN.1 Covid variant could become widespread. The new Covid strain, also known as BA., is a descendant of the BA.2.86 lineage, better known as Pirola.

As Pirola contained more than 30 mutations in the spike protein, experts hypothesised that JN.1 could be even more transmissible. The genetic advancements of this lineage seem to be highly capable of evading the pre-existing Covid immunity.

The JN.1 contains a hallmark mutation L455S in its spike protein as well as three other mutations in non-spike proteins. Worryingly, previous research has shown that acquiring L455F mutation is associated with increased viral transmissibility and immune evasion ability.

In this new study, scientists investigated the virological characteristics of the JN.1 variant. This Omicron subvariant was identified for the first time in the United States, but more than 25 sequences of JN.1 have now been reported in France, Spain, and the UK.

The research team analysed genomic surveillance data from these countries to determine the “reproductive number” of JN.1. The effective reproductive number refers to the expected number of new infections.

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The findings revealed that the reproductive number of the JN.1 variant was higher than the reproductive number of Pirola and HK.3 Covid variants.

According to the research team, this indicates that JN.1 has the ability to become a dominant variant worldwide.

Furthermore, evidence already indicates the Omicron spin-off has gained dominance over the HK.3 variant in France and Spain.

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The research team also revealed that JN.1 is highly resistant to immunity induced by XBB.1.5 and EG.5.1, also known as Eris, variants.

The study evaluated the virological characteristics of JN.1, which showed robust immune evasion ability against other co-circulating coronavirus variants.

This “increased immune fitness” could be due to the hallmark mutation in the spike protein.

However, the study could not conclusively confirm if this mutation can affect the transmissibility and infectivity of the new variant. The research is currently available on the BioRxiv preprint server.

What are the symptoms of JN.1?

Dr Chris Papadopoulos, Principal Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Bedfordshire, previously told to watch out for the following signs of Covid JN.1:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Tiredness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Headaches.

The NHS recommends trying to stay at home and avoiding contact with other people if you have fever and don’t feel well enough.

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