18 Dec 2023

JN.1 sub-variant of COVID-19: 5 deaths in one day in India; WHO cautions against current surge; Kerala govt said this

Covid 19 cases started increasing once again in India. A new sub-variant of Covid JN.1 has been found in Kerala. Due to this, four people died on 17 December in the southern state. In UP too, a Covid positive person lost his life. However, it is not known whether this patient was infected with the JN.1 variant.

According to the Union Health Ministry, India recorded 335 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday and the number of active cases increased to 1,701.

Karnataka government has issued an alert regarding sub variant JN.1. Whereas in Kerala, Health Minister Veena George said – there is no need to worry. We are continuously monitoring.

Maintain robust surveillance: WHO 

In response to the upsurge in respiratory illnesses and the emergence of the new JN.1 sub-variant of COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) has emphasized the evolving nature of the virus. Urging member states to maintain robust surveillance and share sequencing data, the WHO conveyed key insights through a video featuring Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead on COVID-19.

Taking to social media, WHO posted, "Dr @mvankerkhove talks about the current surge in respiratory diseases #COVID19 and JN.1 subvariant. WHO continues to assess the situation. Follow WHO's public health advice to keep your families and friends safe during this holiday season."

Van Kerkhove highlighted the global increase in respiratory diseases, attributing it to various pathogens such as #COVID19, flu, rhinovirus, mycoplasma pneumonia, and others. In her video message, she explained that the surge in respiratory infections is multifaceted, encompassing heightened holiday gatherings and concurrent infections.

"It's not solely COVID-19; alongside it, we have influenza, other viruses, and bacteria. As we enter the winter months in some parts of the world, gatherings increase during the holiday season. With more indoor activities, especially in poorly ventilated spaces, these efficiently transmissible pathogens take advantage," she elucidated.

Van Kerkhove underscored the evolving nature of COVID-19, stating that 68% of current cases involve XBB sublineages and other groups like JN.1. Emphasizing the need for continued vigilance and sequence sharing, she urged member states to adapt advice accordingly.

Regarding preventive measures, she advised vaccination and emphasized the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against severe outcomes, including those associated with emerging variants like JN.1. She stressed the importance of seeking clinical care in case of infection.

Kerala Health Minister  urges people to remain vigilant

Meanwhile, in response to the detection of the JN.1 subvariant in Kerala during routine surveillance by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), the Union Ministry of Health has initiated preparedness measures.

Kerala Health Minister Veena George reassured the public, emphasizing that there is no cause for concern. She urged people to remain vigilant, stating that the subvariant had been previously detected in Indians tested at the Singapore airport a few months ago.

Highlighting Kerala's robust health system, Minister George explained that the subvariant was identified through genomic sequencing, underscoring that there is no need for panic. While closely monitoring the situation, she advised particular attention to individuals with comorbidities.

Countrywide drill is underway to assess public health and hospital readiness

In response to the identification of the JN.1 subvariant, the Union Ministry of Health has implemented preparedness measures. Dr. Rajiv Bahl, Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), confirmed this during a press briefing in New Delhi. A nationwide drill is underway to assess public health and hospital readiness, overseen by district collectors and scheduled for completion by December 18.

The Union Ministry of Health maintains regular communication with the State Department of Health in Kerala, closely monitoring points of entry. Although the majority of reported cases in Kerala are clinically mild, health authorities stress the importance of ongoing vigilance and preparedness in managing the evolving situation related to COVID-19 variants.

The India SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), a network of Genomic Laboratories, actively monitors the genomic aspects of COVID-19 in India. The detection of the JN.1 subvariant aligns with revised surveillance guidelines, involving testing patients with Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) and Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) for COVID-19. Positive cases are 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 December 8. The patient, initially testing positive on November 18, experienced mild symptoms of ILI and has since recovered from COVID-19. JN.1 was first detected in the United States in September 2023.

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