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New COVID-19 Variants

Understanding the impact, symptoms, and preventive measures regarding the latest variants of the COVID-19 virus.

A timeline of new COVID-19 variants

The COVID-19 infection is responsible for the global pandemic, but learning how the illness changed since its impact on the world can help you and your loved ones stay healthy and avoid COVID-19 in the future.

  • B.1.1.7 (Alpha): B.1.1.7, also known as the Alpha variant, was the original variant of COVID-19, first appearing in the UK in 2020 before its transmission around the world.

  • B.1.351 (Beta): B.1.351 mutated from B.1.1.7 and was discovered shortly after the beginning of COVID-19's outbreak. It is characterized by its higher transmission rate, 50% more likely to be spread compared to the Alpha variant.

  • P.1 (Gamma): Seemingly more transmissible for those who were fully vaccinated from the Alpha or Beta variants, P.1 was discovered in Brazil toward the end of 2020 and did not spread nearly as much as its predecessors.

  • B.1.427 and B.1.429 (Epsilon): The Epsilon variants of COVID-19, discovered in mid-2020, brought new concerns for those who were fully vaccinated and those who suffered from a previous COVID-19 infection. This variant's spike protein made professionals concerned it would have an easier time getting around the body's antibodies developed from the vaccine or infection and spread more easily.

  • B.1.617.1 (Kappa): First identified in India during the fall of 2020, B.1.167.1 was only upgraded to a variant to monitor during the fall of 2021 by the World Health Organization (WHO). Vaccinations against the original variants seemed to have some effect on the Kappa variant.

  • C.37 (Lambda): Discovered in Peru in December 2020, the Lambda variant did not spread nearly as far as its predecessors or the mutations following it. At first glance, health professionals were mostly concerned about the variants' potential to spread more quickly, come with more severe symptoms or illnesses and be more resistant to treatment options.

  • B.1.617.2 (Delta): Spring of 2021 saw a resurgence in COVID-19's impact on a global scale as vaccine-based immunity had grave difficulty holding up to the Delta variant's onslaught. Booster vaccines became more widely available and promoted by health officials as ameans of protecting communities.

  • B.1.1.529 (Omicron): With the most intensive list of subvariants, including the BA.5 and BA.2.86 subvariants, the Omicron variant was originally identified in late November 2021. This variant and its subvariants show a propensity for being stronger than the original and new vaccinations and are more easily transmittable than older variants of COVID-19. The BA.2.86 variant even has many more mutations compared to earlier variants of COVID-19.

  • HV.1 and FL.1.5.1: Discovered September 2023, these Omicron XBB variants continue to show mutations that make professionals think these variants spread even easier than earlier variants. By the following month, health professionals agreed that a quarter of all COVID-19 cases in the United States were one of these two strains of the infection.

  • JN.1: The most recent variant that WHO recommends everyone be aware of is JN.1, discovered in December 2023. We'll discuss the characteristics and symptoms of this new variant below.

Exploring the new COVID-19 variant: JN.1

The newest variant, JN.1, health authorities are watching is spreading rapidly through heavily populated parts of South East Asia at this time. As is the case with many COVID-19 variants, the JN.1 variant appears even more effective at displacing the effects of vaccine-based immunity and can be passed easily through respiratory droplets that enter the air through our breathing.

Symptoms of new COVID-19 variant JN.1

Symptomatically, JN.1 doesn't yet present any difference from other variants of COVID-19. Respiratory symptoms include coughing, a runny nose and a sore throat. Other common symptoms include headache, muscle pain, fatigue and fever. Thankfully, JN.1 does not appear to be any more severe than previous variants. Like all COVID-19 variants, though, there is a risk of severe outcomes, including death. Older people and those with certain health conditions or weakened immune systems are most at risk.

Immunity to JN.1

One of the reasons that JN.1 is of interest to health authorities is its ability to evade the immune system. People who have had COVID-19 in the past or who have been vaccinated and boosted are less likely to catch JN.1. However, the protection isn’t as strong as it is for other variants. A single mutation on JN.1’s spike protein compared to BA.286 makes it different from other variants. This means that antibodies from previous versions of COVID-19 are less likely to detect JN.1, which is leading to a higher rate of breakthrough infections and where some fully vaccinated individuals still catch the illness. Despite the higher rate of infections, being vaccinated still reduces the likelihood that you’ll be hospitalized or die from the virus.

Preventing JN.1

Keeping in mind that JN.1 is relatively more contagious than any earlier variant, consider increasing your personal and workplace health measures. This includes getting COVID-19 vaccines and boosters when you’re eligible, wearing a face mask in public, washing hands frequently, and choosing less crowded venues. Talk to your friends and family about their COVID-19 risk tolerance, and plan to socialize in ways that everyone feels comfortable with.It’s important to get tested for COVID-19 if symptoms arise or you’ve been in contact with someone who has it. Stay home and isolate if you’re sick or if you test positive.

Treating JN.1 and new COVID-19 variants

If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and you’re at risk of severe outcomes, you may qualify for prescription medications. The two classes of medications available are antiviral treatments and monoclonal antibodies.

Antiviral treatments stop the virus from multiplying, while monoclonal antibodies help the immune system react more effectively to COVID-19. These medications lower the risk of serious illness from COVID-19. To work, they must be taken within the first few days of getting symptoms or testing positive.

Severe symptoms of COVID-19 include chest pain, difficulty breathing, confusion, and loss of speech or mobility. If you experience any of these symptoms, get medical attention immediately.WellNow can assist with COVID-19 treatment; visit COVID-19 Test & Treat for more info.

WellNow Services for all COVID-19 Variants

If you have concerns about COVID-19, turn to WellNow Urgent Care. With more than 180 clinics across Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, we’re here when you need us.To receive 24/7 medical advice virtually (including COVID-19 medication prescriptions if appropriate), use our Virtual Care service.

For COVID-19 testing, visit a WellNow clinic near you. WellNow provides excellence in both care quality and convenience for non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses. Whether it’s the latest COVID-19 variant, allergies or injuries, we have you covered. Discover our full range of services and keep WellNow in mind for your next urgent care visit.

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Information contained in this blog is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals. The content is not meant to be complete or exhaustive or to apply to any specific individual's medical condition. Always refer to the personalized information given to you by your doctor or contact us directly.