Covid-19 new group of variants called ‘FLiRT’ is spreading in several countries around the world. Read on to know whether its a threat to India or not yet.

Covid-19 or coronavirus wreaked havoc globally in December 2019, and it continues to circulate. While people have become more aware and the virus is not as virulent as it was in its initial days, the ongoing circulation of the virus remains a formidable challenge. The emergence of FLiRT, an interesting name given to a group of new Covid-19 variants belonging to the Omicron JN.1 lineage, is spreading in the US. Two new FLiRT Covid-19 variants, KP.2 and KP 1.1 have been identified to have caused the infections. But what exactly is FLiRT, and do you need you worry about it?

What is the Covid-19 “FLiRT” variant?

The JN.1 is a subvariant of Omicron variant BA.2.86. KP.2 and KP.1.1 are the descendants of JN.1 and members of the group of Covid-19 variants sometimes called “FLiRT” variants (based on technical names for their mutations). It started spreading in late December 2023 and the infection is believed to have increased transmissibility compared to previous Omicron sub-variants.

Also Read: JN.1 Covid-19 variant in Kerala: Is it a threat to India?

Covid is spreading rapidly in India again
A new Covid-19 variant ‘FLiRT’ is spreading in the US. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

“The new variants KP.2 and KP.1.1 are spinoffs of the JN1.11.1 (Omicron family) and have mutations with the capacity to evade vaccine immunity in people making them transmissible. However, there are no reports to confirm higher severity, mortality, and even hospitalization,” explains Infectious Disease Specialist Dr Charu Dutt Arora.

As per data from the Infectious Disease Society of America, KP.1.1 has been identified in the US but has not been widespread. KP.1.1 has accounted for 7.5 percent of the new coronavirus cases in the United States. When these variants are compared to previous Omicron variants, they show improved transmissibility, especially KP.2 and KP 1.1.

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What are the symptoms of the new Covid-19 variant FLiRT?

The infection caused by ‘FLiRT’ variants is similar to those caused by other variants of coronavirus. Dr Arora points out that the symptoms of FLiRT Covid-19 variant are similar to the symptoms of the Omicron lineage of the virus. The symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Loss of taste or smell

While these are the common symptoms, people may experience problems in the upper respiratory tract if it spreads.

Is it a threat to India?

So far, cases of FLiRT variant have not been reported in India but given the high population, it may spread if precautions are not taken. However, it is not considered a threat in any country where it has spread. “With multiple waves in the past 4 years and FLiRT replacing the Eris variant in many countries like the US, New Zealand, South Korea, and the UK, it is reported that the level of hospitalization and severity of infection is low,” adds Dr Arora.

The key to avoid infection is to practice Covid-19 appropriate behaviour such as practicing hand hygiene, masking in public places, maintaining ventilation, and active surveillance of infected patients. However, experts believe there is no need to panic as of now.

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Covid-19 variant infection can be prevented by vaccination. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Are the vaccines still an effective measure against Covid-19?

Recent reports of vaccines leading to certain side effects have sparked concerns among people, but experts say that there is still the best way to prevent getting infected by Covid-19. Dr Arora says, “Covid-19 vaccination is the most acceptable way to provide mass immunization. Although there are reports of side effects from vaccines, the benefits outweigh the risks. As per scientific reports, only 7 in 10 lakh people can experience those side effects. Vaccination prevents severity and morbidity, especially in vulnerable populations.”

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FLiRT is a group of new variants stemming from the Omicron JN.1 lineage, spreading in the US. Descendants of JN.1, KP.2, and KP 1.1 show heightened transmissibility compared to previous Omicron subvariants. Symptoms of these variants are similar to the Omicron variant. While cases of infections have not been reported in India, experts advise taking necessary precaution to avoid its spread. Also, getting vaccinated is a must as it remains the best way to avoid the spread of Covid-19.

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