A troubling new COVID subvariant is on the rise just in time for the holidays, officials have warned.
The JN.1 subvariant — which stems from the Omicron variant that surged in early 2022 — is “rapidly increasing globally,” the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Tuesday.
JN.1 is causing about 20 percent of new coronavirus infections in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated.
The variant evolved from BA.2.86, a descendant of the Omicron variant that made headlines over the summer when scientists worried that it might mutate beyond the capacity of vaccines and antibodies, CNN reported.
JN.1 has only one change to its spike protein compared to BA.2.86, but seems to be a faster-moving virus, the outlet explained.
The prevalence of JN.1 in the US has more than doubled since late November, the CDC estimated — which may have something to do with the onset of the holiday travel craze.
The CDC has issued troubling statistics about the JN.1 variant. Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
“When I just look at the growth curve, it is rising quite sharply, and it seems to coincide with the Thanksgiving break in terms of timing,” Dr. Shishi Luo, the head of infectious diseases for the genomic sequencing company Helix, told CNN.
Despite concerns about JN.1’s spread, the disease’s severity is not necessarily worse, experts said.
“While there is a rapid increase in JN.1 infections, and likely increase in cases, available limited evidence does not suggest that the associated disease severity is higher,” the WHO explained.
The spike in cases seems to correlate with the holidays. Getty Images
There is no indication that JN.1’s symptoms differ from general COVID ailments — including fever, chills, difficulty breathing, congestion and more — the CDC said.
The growth in JN.1 cases in the US ahead of the holidays is likely thanks to waning immunity, according to experts.
The mutation on the variant’s spike is in a position that seems to help it escape the body’s immunity, Dr. T. Ryan Gregory, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario, told CNN.
Only about 18 percent of US adults have gotten the latest COVID booster. Christopher Sadowski
There has also been about a twofold decrease in the ability of the human body’s antibodies to neutralize the subvariant, studies from Columbia University and in China indicated.
As of December 9, only around 18 percent of adults in the US received the latest COVID vaccine round, the CDC added.
The organization is calling on medical professionals to work harder to ensure their patients received all rounds of the vaccine, CNN reported.
JN.1 is the fastest-growing variant in the US. AFP via Getty Images
“Fewer people are getting the booster, and fewer people are getting Paxlovid,” Dr. Alex Greninger, assistant director of the Clinical Virology Laboratory at the University of Washington, told the outlet.
“There was a lot of work to get those vaccines and get those drugs available, so it’s just extra sad when those tools aren’t being used,” he said.
The troubling surge in the JN.1 variant comes amid a spike in respiratory illnesses in New York City and beyond — as well as a 30 percent jump in COVID-related hospitalizations.