New Covid variant FLiRT spreads in US; do we need to worry? Symptoms to precaution, all you need to know | Health - Hindustan Times
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New Covid variant FLiRT spreads in US; do we need to worry? Symptoms to precaution, all you need to know

By, New Delhi
May 04, 2024 07:50 PM IST

Two new Covid variants KP.2 and KP 1.1 are spreading in US, raising concerns about a fresh wave of infections. Do we need to worry?

FLiRT, a group of new Covid-19 variants belonging to Omicron's JN.1 lineage is spreading fast in US, raising concern about a new wave of infections in summer. With new mutations, the variants KP.2 and KP 1.1 are considered to more infectious than previous Omicron variants, but experts say the symptoms remain more or less the same. KP.2 has reported to have taken over JN.1 variant in US although cases of hospitalization there remains low, as per media reports. KP.1.1, another FLirt variant is also detected in the US, but seems to be less in circulation than KP.2. The nickname 'FLiRT" is based on the technical names for their mutations, according to the Infectious Disease Society of America. (Also read: Heart attack cases not rising due to Covid vaccine, but stress and other traditional factors, says cardiologist)

FLiRT refers to a group of new SARS-CoV-2 variants that have emerged from the Omicron JN.1 lineage and are rapidly spreading across the U.S. (Pixabay)
FLiRT refers to a group of new SARS-CoV-2 variants that have emerged from the Omicron JN.1 lineage and are rapidly spreading across the U.S. (Pixabay)

"During last two weeks, a small surge has been seen in United States and there are fears that during summer there, the surge would increase. KP.2 and KP 1.1 make for FLiRT that have been identified as the new variants. As per researcher Dr Eric, this new lineage will probably evade the vaccine and bypass the immunity," says Dr M Wali, Senior Consultant, Department of Medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

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What's new about FLiRT and what are its symptoms?

"FLiRT is a very interesting nickname for a group of Covid variant that have been identified in the US. These are descendants of the JN. 1 variant that came in last December. They carry some fresh mutations that seem to be allowing it to spread easily. Its symptoms are not significantly different from the previously known Covid variants. Flu like symptoms, body ache, fever and in some cases digestive issues. As such based on these symptoms, it would be hard to determine whether you have contracted this variant. A specific genomic taste need to be performed for this purpose, says Dr. Pavithra Venkatagopalan, a microbiologist, coronavirus expert, and Covid Awareness Specialist, Rotary Club of Madras Next Gen.

"FLiRT refers to a group of new SARS-CoV-2 variants that have emerged from the Omicron JN.1 lineage and are rapidly spreading across the U.S. The most prominent FLiRT variant is KP.2, which has become the dominant strain in the U.S and accounting for around 25% of new COVID-19 cases as of April 2024," says Dr Nikhil Modi, Senior Consultant at the Department of Respiratory, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.

"The FLiRT variants, especially KP.2, appear to have increased transmissibility compared to previous Omicron sub variants. They also show ability to evade immunity from prior infection and vaccines, though the extent is still under study. The symptoms associated with FLiRT infection mirror those of other Omicron subvariants, including sore throat, cough, fatigue, nasal congestion, runny nose, headache, muscle aches, fever, and potential loss of taste or smell," adds Dr Modi.

Do we need to panic about FLiRT?

Dr Wali says that considering people in India were not exposed to mRNA vaccines and have gained immunity widely through infections, there is less reason to panic about a fresh wave.

"mRNA vaccines were given routinely in US and these were associated with impairing the immune function. There were large group of people who did not take the vaccine and therefore they now need to be alert for new variants. In India, that's not the problem. Because the immunity that we acquired was through infections and a large number of people were infected. Our vaccination programme was also huge," he adds.

"While FLiRT has not yet been detected in India, the potential spread of these variants is a significant concern given the country's high population density and varying levels of vaccination and immunity from previous waves," says Dr Modi.

"New variants will keep coming and we have to keep alert and follow universal precautions like use of mask, keeping social distancing, not coughing inappropriately and also have influenza vaccination or flu shot. People above 45 years old and children also can be given flu shots. We have to prepare ourselves with influenza like illnesses and Covid," says Dr Wali.

Stressing on updating vaccines, Dr Wali says future vaccination formulation should be as per WHO and should be considered keeping in view emerging variants like KP 1.1 and so on.

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