No need to panic over new COVID subvariant but awareness necessary

Cai Wenjun
The COVID-19 virus is under continuous mutation, which is limited within the Omicron variant, with the mutation becoming a normality under the host's immunity, a top official says.
Cai Wenjun

The COVID-19 virus is under continuous mutation, which is limited within the Omicron variant. Like the flu virus, the mutation of the COVID-19 virus will become a normality under the host's immunity, according to a top medical official in Shanghai.

Dr Zhang Wenhong, director of the National Medical Center for Infectious Diseases in Shanghai, said on Wednesday that the center has teamed up and collated data from 79 hospitals across China to monitor the mutation and changes in the Omicron variant.

The dominant subvariants were BA.5.2 and BF.7 between November 2022 and early April 2023. Then XBB started to rise and took the dominant position until July 2023, when EG.5 began growing quickly. In early August, FY.3.1 and FL.13.2 were detected.

JN.1 started to appear in January 2024 and was detected in over 70 percent of the infected cases between January and March. By April 30, JN.1 was still the dominant subvariant.

The center also conducted tests on sewage water. According to the COVID-19 nucleic acid density in sewage water, there was a COVID-19 peak around January 10 this year, which showed a downtrend until March 27. The density remained stable until mid-April and the latest test conducted on May 13 showed a further downturn.

During this period, the COVID-19 disease load didn't fluctuate significantly, Zhang revealed.

"So far, the prevalent subvariant in China is still JN.1. As for the KP.2 subvariant, which has become increasingly prevalent on a global scale, China has detected 25 KP.2 sequences with a very low prevalence level, as such cases accounted for only 0.05 percent to 0.30 percent of all locally sequenced cases every week," he noted.

"Considering that KP.2 accounts for 28.2 percent of cases in the United States without significant rise in the number of cases for emergency care, hospitalization and mortality, the clinical risk of KP.2 will be limited.

"We will continue to strictly monitor COVID-19 and pathogens of other respiratory diseases. It will become a common issue for detecting new virus subtypes. There is no need for the public to panic."

Local health authorities also called for raising public awareness about infectious diseases as temperatures rise with the advent of summer.

"Intestinal disease, worm-born disease and respiratory disease are the three major types of infectious diseases in summer," Dr Zhu Renyi of the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention told a lecture on public health on Wednesday.

"Proper personal hygiene like washing hands and covering the mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing are important. For COVID-19 prevention and control, the most effective measure is wearing a mask. Since it is uncomfortable to wear a mask all the time in summer, people can carry a mask and put it on while entering the metro, hospitals or places with crowds," he said.

Experts said that hygiene and disinfection at home is also important to prevent and control infectious diseases. People should wash and disinfect electric appliances like refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners as well as items like cutting boards and tableware.

"Air conditioners can be an important tool for spreading lung infection. So it is necessary to clean and disinfect air conditioners regularly," Zhu pointed out.

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