Is Covid-19 subvariant FLiRT dangerous? Here’s all you need to know | India News

NEW DELHI: Maharashtra reported 91 cases of the Covid-19 Omicron subvariant KP.2, which has surpassed the previously dominant JN.1 variant and is currently the primary driver of cases in several nations.
As per Dr Rajesh Karyakarte, the state’s genome sequencing coordinator the slight surge in cases witnessed by the state in March, with an average of around 250 detections, is likely due to the spread of the KP.2 variant, which evolved from JN.1, the dominant Covid strain at the end of 2023.
What is FLiRT?
New variants have come to the fore and this time it is not a single mutant that we need to be worried about, rather it is a group of mutants, collectively named as FLiRT. KP.2 and KP.1.1 are among the variants and have been named FLiRT based on the letters derived from their mutations. FLiRT variants are direct descendants of JN.1.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FLiRT has been detected in wastewater surveillance. From April 14 through April 27, the variant, labeled KP.2, makes up about 25% of the cases in the United States, according to the CDC. That makes it the new dominant variant in the country, overtaking JN.1, according to the USA Today.
Characteristics of KP.1 and KP.2 variant
A recent study conducted by Japanese researchers has revealed that the KP.2 (JN. variant, which is a descendant of JN.1, possesses three distinct substitutions in the S protein, including S:R346T and S:F456L, as well as an additional substitution in a non-S protein. These genetic changes have resulted in a notable difference in the reproduction number of KP.2 compared to its predecessor, JN.1. The KP.2 variant of COVID-19 is spreading more rapidly compared to the KP.1.1 variant, which is another FLiRT variant. According to the most recent information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), KP.2 accounts for 28% of COVID cases in the United States, while KP.1.1 cases make up only 7.1% of the total cases.
What are the signs and symptoms of FLiRT?
Physicians have noted that symptoms associated with both the KP.2 and JN.1 variants, now constituting approximately 16 percent of cases, largely resemble those observed with previous variants. These symptoms encompass a range including sore throat, runny nose, coughing, headaches, body aches, fever, congestion, fatigue, and in severe instances, shortness of breath. While fewer individuals now experience loss of taste and smell compared to earlier stages of the pandemic, some still encounter these symptoms.
Dr. Chin-Hong highlighted that patients are often taken aback to learn that diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting can also manifest as symptoms of Covid, occasionally mistaking them for signs of norovirus infection, reported New York Times.
For individuals who have previously contracted Covid, reinfection tends to manifest as either a milder or similarly mild case. Though occurrences of long Covid are now less frequent than in the initial stages of the pandemic, recurrent infections elevate the risk of developing long-term Covid symptoms, according to Fikadu Tafesse, a virologist at Oregon Health & Science University. However, researchers are still investigating the extent to which repeat infections contribute to long Covid, among other evolving aspects of the pandemic.
“That’s the nature of the virus,” Dr. Tafesse said. “It keeps mutating.”
Is KP.2 better at evading immunity?
KP.2 is said to be much better at evading immunity and is slightly more infectious than JN.1 variant. According to Dr. David Ho, virologist at Columbia University, KP.2 could infect even people who got the most updated vaccine. A study by researchers in Japan found that KP.2 has more potential than JN.1 at infecting people who received the most recent Covid vaccine; the paper was released in April.
Does KP.2 causes more severe illness compared to other strains?
The CDC spokesperson stated that there is currently no evidence to suggest that KP.2 causes more severe illness compared to other strains. However, certain groups, such as those aged 65 and older, pregnant women, and individuals with compromised immune systems, remain at a higher risk of experiencing serious complications from COVID-19. The CDC has advised individuals aged 65 and older who have already received one dose of the updated vaccine to get an additional shot at least four months later.
How to remain safe?
To safeguard against COVID, adopt preventive measures: wear masks in crowded spaces; maintain hand hygiene through frequent washing; uphold physical distancing, especially indoors; steer clear of large gatherings and poorly ventilated areas; regularly disinfect frequently touched surfaces; stay home if feeling unwell or symptomatic; stay informed about local guidelines and restrictions; support community vaccination efforts; and utilize virtual means to connect with loved ones. By diligently adhering to these practices, individuals can significantly reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus, contributing to the collective effort in mitigating the impact of the pandemic.
(With inputs from agencies)


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