JN.1 COVID Patients Are Presenting With 2 Specific Symptoms First, Doctors Say
These are the initial signs you'll want to be on the lookout for.
There is a new COVID variant causing concern this winter. JN.1 is now the "most widely circulating variant" in the U.S., according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It's now estimated to account for approximately 62 percent of all COVID cases in the country, and its prevalence continues to rise. As always, doctors and researchers are paying close attention to patients' symptoms, in part to look out for any emerging trends that come along with new variants.
But pinpointing COVID signs is often easier said than done. As SARS-CoV-2 continues to mutate, doctors say it's becoming harder and harder to differentiate its symptoms from those of other respiratory viruses.
"When COVID first came, it was characterized by these very odd, vague symptoms—from brain fog, feeling exhausted, and losing taste and smell," Ziad Tukmachi, general practitioner at Chartfield Surgery in London, recently told the BBC. "Now I feel it's mutated to more similar symptoms to the flu, where it's very difficult clinically to distinguish between the two."
Some of the most distinctive symptoms seem to have become less common. A 2023 report from researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Medicine showed that people being infected with subvariants from the Omicron family are now only 6 to 8 percent as likely to lose their sense of smell or taste compared to cases infected by pre-Omicron variants at the start of the pandemic.
JN.1 is a distant offspring of Omicron and may be more likely to cause sensory losses, but there are other signs that might be more important to look out for instead. David Strain, associate professor of cardiometabolic health at the University of Exeter, told BBC that JN.1 patients are presenting with two specific symptoms first: headache or diarrhea.
Strain is not the only one that has noted these emerging symptoms.
"There is some suggestion that JN.1 may be causing more diarrhea than previous variants, but we don't have any firm data supporting that yet," Andy Pekosz, PhD, professor in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, said in a new interview for Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Along with these two first symptoms, JN.1 patients are mostly presenting with signs that are "very similar to those of previous Omicron variants," according to Pekosz. These may include fever, cough, fatigue, and sore throat, per a report from internal medicine specialist Jagadeesh Kanukuntla, MD, for Continental Hospitals.
But Kanukuntla also advises people to watch out for other distinguishing features from JN.1, like runny nose, congestion, muscle aches, and other gastrointestinal issues, namely nausea and loss of appetite.
"Symptoms do seem to change from one variant to another," Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told the BBC. "We've had periods where the earliest symptom is headache, and others where it's more gastrointestinal. We all [want] to go back to life as normal, but the reality is, COVID isn't going anywhere."
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