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New COVID variant emerges as ER visits rise in the US

Newer variants aren't more or less severe than previous ones, but most people have a stronger immune response than before.
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Posted at 10:01 AM, Jun 12, 2024

Updated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that a recent COVID-19 variant is now making up the plurality of cases throughout the U.S., just as emergency room visits associated with the virus increase.

According to CDC data, COVID-19-related emergency room visits for the week ending June 7 were up 16.2% compared to the week before. As of June 7, COVID-19 was responsible for 0.5% of all emergency room visits in the U.S., the CDC said.

As of June 8, the CDC said that variant KP.3 now makes up a plurality of cases. The CDC estimates that KP.3 now comprises 25% of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. KP.2 made up 22.5% of cases. JN.1, which was the dominant COVID-19 strain in February, now makes up 3.1% of cases.

KP.2 and KP.3 are known as FLiRT variants, because of their specific positions in the spike protein.

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Andy Pekosz, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in molecular microbiology and immunology, said in a Q&A last month that these variants aren't more or less severe than previous variants, but more people have antibodies through vaccines and prior infection to better fight off an infection.

"The period of infectiousness for these FLiRT variants remains the same as with JN.1 and previous omicron variants: After exposure, it may take five or more days before you develop symptoms, though symptoms may appear sooner," Pekosz said. "You are contagious one to two days before you experience symptoms and a few days after symptoms subside. And as with previous variants, some people may have detectable live virus for up to a week after their symptoms begin, and some may experience rebound symptoms."

Both the KP.2 and KP.3 variants evolved from JN.1. Last week, advisers from the Food and Drug Administration's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee recommended that Fall 2024 vaccines target the JN.1. variant.