Friday , February 23 2024

HCMC detects new subvariant as Covid hospitalizations rise


Twelve out of 16 Covid patients hospitalized in HCMC last month were infected with the fast-growing JN.1 subvariant, a health official said, adding that admissions have been on the rise.

This marks the first time the JN.1 variant has been detected in Vietnam, Director of Ho Chi Minh City’s Health Department, Tang Chi Thuong, said Wednesday, adding that the gene sequence was conducted by a team of the city’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases and the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU).

The World Health Organization late last month designated JN.1 a “variant of interest.”

A subvariant of the Omicron BA.2.86 variant, JN.1 is contributing to an increase in cases and deaths in several countries, including Thailand. It is the fastest growing and dominant variant in the U.S. as of last month.

According to the WHO, JN.1 has new antigenic characteristics that allow the virus to easily attack the immune system, leading to faster transmission. Consequently, it quickly became dominant among the Covid variants causing global illness. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this variant causes more severe illness than other Omicron subvariants.

Globally, JN.1 is currently the most circulating subvariant and has been reported by 71 countries.

The remaining cases among the 16 patients in HCMC included two with the BA.2.86.1 subvariant and one with XDD, Thuong said.

From Dec. 18, 2023 to Jan. 22, 2024, the HCMC Center for Disease Control reported 94 Covid hospitalizations, including cases transferred to the city from nearby provinces.

Among them, 17 severe cases required oxygen, with no fatalities.

All severe cases belonged to the high-risk group, meaning those with serious underlying conditions, or/and who had not completed Covid vaccination as per the Ministry of Health’s guidelines (at least three shots for normal people and four shots for vulnerable ones).

“A worrying sign is the increasing number of hospital admission at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases due to Covid-19 in the recent six weeks,” Thuong said.

The WHO is currently monitoring five variants of interest, XBB.1.5, XBB.1.16, EG.5, BA.2.86, and JN.1. With the latest monitoring results in December, all variants except EG.5 have been detected in HCMC.

Generally, all current variants cause similar Covid-19 symptoms. The severity of the illness depends on the individual’s immune status and health condition.

The U.S. CDC on Dec. 22 said, “It’s important to know that existing vaccines, tests, and treatments still work well against JN.1, so this variant does not affect CDC’s recommendations. Recent laboratory data show that the updated 2023-2024 Covid-19 vaccines produce antibodies that protect against JN.1.”

Thuong warned that with the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday, increased social interaction and travel Could raise the risk of more Covid cases and hospitalizations.

In such a circumstance, the Health Department advises the public not to be complacent and continue implementing self-protection measures for themselves, their families and community.

Latest data from the WHO said globally, the number of new cases increased by 4% during the 28-day period of Dec. 11 to Jan. 7 as compared to the previous 28-day period, with over 1.1 million new cases.

However, new hospitalizations recorded an overall increase of 40% to over 173,000, and admissions to an intensive care unit rose 13% to 1,900. 

The number of new deaths decreased by 26% as compared to the previous 28-day period, with 8,700 new fatalities reported.

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