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The Omicron variant driving COVID spike

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The JN.1 strain – a subvariant of Omicron – has led to a spike in COVID-19 cases across Australia and the world.
What is the JN.1 strain? 

A new strain of COVID-19 has led to a spike in infections and hospitalisations in Australia and around the world.

The JN.1 strain comes from the Omicron variant, which first spread globally in 2021.

COVID cases in NSW, the country’s most populous state, are believed to have surged above the state’s 2023 winter peak.

What is the JN.1 strain?

The JN.1 strain was first detected in Australia in mid-October. It’s led to a surge in cases globally after it originally surfaced in the U.S. in September.

There’s not yet enough conclusive evidence to prove JN.1 causes more severe disease.

However, preliminary research suggests it could be more transmissible and better at evading the immune system than previous strains.

NSW JN.1 surge

COVID cases have continued to rise in NSW since October.

According to the latest NSW Health data, there were 6,757 COVID cases in the two weeks to 6 January.

The first week of 2024 saw the state’s highest case numbers in six months. Around 35% of infections are believed to be from the JN.1 strain.

Victoria surge

Victoria’s Department of Health issued a COVID-19 alert this week, attributing an increase in cases to the new JN.1 strain.

“Recent weeks have seen a rapid increase in hospitalisation of COVID-19 cases,” it said.

A report up to 5 January found that JN.1 had become the most prevalent subvariant strain in the state’s wastewater samples.

Treatment increase

Government data shows the number of patients accessing antiviral medications for COVID treatment has risen in every state and territory.

According to the latest available data, over 70,000 prescriptions were issued to treat COVID in November — an increase of 180% from around 25,000 prescriptions issued in September.

While cases have increased, COVID-related deaths remain low.

Health advice for JN.1 strain

Public health advice around the JN.1 strain follows similar community advice for other strains of COVID.

This includes wearing a mask in public settings and staying up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations.

Anyone experiencing symptoms is advised to test for COVID. Eligible patients including the elderly and immunocompromised people are encouraged to seek antiviral medicines if they test positive.

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