A concerning development has taken place in the world of COVID-19, as a new variant known as B.2.86 is showing rapid evolution despite initial assertions that it was not mutating quickly. This variant has given rise to several sub-lineages, including JN.1, JN.2, JN.3, and JQ.1, each with their own distinct mutations. Among these sub-lineages, JN.1 is predicted to become the predominant strain by late December or early January of 2024.
The presence of these sub-lineages has been detected in multiple countries, with JN.2 and JN.3 sequences found in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, and the United States. Meanwhile, the JQ.1 sub-lineage, which has been associated with more severe illness, has been identified in parts of South Africa, Denmark, France, and the United Kingdom. It is important to note that although the number of available sequences is currently limited, there is a backlog of sequences awaiting processing, indicating that the actual number of BA.2.86 cases may be higher than currently reported.
Despite some experts downplaying the threat posed by the BA.2.86 variant, data from hospitalized patients suggests that this variant and its sub-lineages are indeed contributing to increased disease severity. As we approach the winter of 2023/2024, it is crucial to conduct further studies to assess the effectiveness of vaccines against these emerging sub-lineages and to understand their potential impact on global infection rates.
The emergence and rapid evolution of the B.2.86 variant and its sub-lineages highlight the ongoing challenges faced in our fight against COVID-19. It serves as a reminder of the importance of continued vigilance in adhering to public health measures, such as vaccination, mask-wearing, and practicing good hand hygiene. By staying informed and taking necessary precautions, we can work together to mitigate the impact of these new variants and protect the health and well-being of our communities.