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JN.1: Not a variant of concern

Public health experts say that the virulence was not strong enough to be a cause of concern, and that vaccine efficacy was sufficient to keep them protected.

JN.1: Not a variant of concern

Representative image (Illustration: Saai)

CHENNAI: After four cases of JN.1 were reported in Tamil Nadu, there was widespread panic in the city over another COVID-19 wave or outbreak.

However, public health experts say that the virulence was not strong enough to be a cause of concern, and that vaccine efficacy was sufficient to keep them protected.

There is no way to prevent the mutation of the virus but people with comorbid conditions need to be more cautious, as their immune system could be weak, making them vulnerable to infections.

Dr R Sundararaman, senior consultant of Internal Medicine, SIMS Hospital, says, “Efficacy of the vaccine has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt, as COVID-induced fatalities have decreased to a large extent. But nobody can predict the nature of the mutation and what it entails. If there are changes in the antigen, it can be a challenge, which happens with the flu vaccine. Luckily, the virus is not affecting kids.”

There is no specific drug to treat COVID-19 but there is a mechanism in place to treat someone affected by the virus symptomatically. “People need not panic because not everyone would get pneumonia. What’s important is to contain the infection by cutting the spread,” he pointed out.

Anyone with symptoms of fever, cough and cold should isolate themselves from others to prevent a spread, he advised.

Severity of first-time infections

Symptoms of COVID-19 remain the same as that of the other sub-variants of Omicron but the severity differs. The JN.1 variant is not causing severity in all cases.

Dr Suresh Kumar, Infectious Disease Specialist, Apollo Hospital, says, “The severity of the infection in COVID-positive cases is more in people who have been infected for the first time, when compared to those who had COVID earlier.”

Despite being vaccinated, protection against the virus could be lower for those who have not been exposed to the virus. “The severity is low and immunity is better in people who have developed it naturally. Post-exposure immunity is better in most people. Thus, it’s important for people who have not been impacted with the virus to stay cautious,” he adds.

Dr Suresh stresses on the importance of keeping a check on the symptoms as soon as they begin to show. “Nobody pays attention to symptoms in the winter season, as they resemble that of bacterial infection or the flu,” he points out.

No direct mortality

The first COVID-death was reported recently in Tamil Nadu, but it was after five months. Three mortalities were reported in one week.

This raised alarm bells among the people but doctors quickly clarified that there was no direct mortality because of COVID-19.

“Earlier, COVID-related mortality was due to the direct impact of the virus as it led to death after developing COVID-associated complications. However, the deaths that we reported recently do not have a direct cause-effect relationship with the virus,” clarifies Dr Sai Vignesh, consultant, Internal Medicine, and Infectious Diseases expert, Parvathy Hospital.

He adds that most patients were found to be positive while being treated for other illnesses or other primary comorbid conditions. “Though people who are immunocompromised need to be cautious, we have also seen people with comorbidities recover successfully in the hospital. The body ache is being reported as a common symptom in the patients affected with JN.1,” he states.

Expectant mothers

Pregnant women are at high risk of being infected, which can lead to other serious complications.

Though fatalities are low worldwide due to JN.1 and there are no related deaths in Tamil Nadu, expectant mothers need to be more careful because their immune system is weak and hence, prone to infections.

Dr Irfana Shahul Hameed, gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospital, explains that the most common symptoms during pregnancy include fever, cough and myalgia. Since women undergo many physical changes when they’re pregnant, symptoms are ignored as common illnesses.

“However, pregnant women with comorbid conditions such as gestational diabetes, hypertension and others need to be extra careful. They should monitor their general health parameters to avoid complications during pregnancy, and after child-birth. Many times, there is no adequate health check-up and follow-up on symptoms. So, pregnant women must wear masks to prevent any kind of viral infections,” she avers.

Shweta Tripathi
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