Uncovering the symptoms of COVID variant JN.1: What you need to know

The SARS-CoV02 virus that causes COVID-19 continues to mutate and spread, particularly during the colder winter months, similar to other seasonal viruses. This year, a new COVID variant called JN.1 is spreading globally.

This strain is now the most widely circulating variant, making up about 62% of new COVID cases as of early January 2024, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of new cases of the JN.1 variant is expected to rise as we move through the winter months. 

What can you expect from this new variant? Is it more severe than previous strains? What steps can you take to stay healthy during the cold and flu season this year? 

Key differences between COVID variant JN.1 and previous strains

The new strain of COVID is a subvariant of the Omicron strain and most similar to the BA.2.86 strain identified in August 2023. It only differs by one spike protein from previous strains. The new COVID variant doesn’t appear to be more severe than previous strains, but it is likely more contagious or better at evading the immune system. 

JN.1 variant COVID symptoms

The new COVID variant symptoms are similar to those of previous strains, including:

  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Muscle soreness and aches
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting

There is no indication of any new COVID-19 symptoms associated with this strain. The virus appears less severe but more contagious and better at evading any existing immunity than previous strains. 

JN.1 variant FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about the new COVID strain. 

How long is the new COVID variant contagious?

Most people with COVID-19 remain contagious for up to ten days from the start of symptoms and should remain isolated. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, further isolation or testing might be recommended to ensure you are no longer contagious. 

How long after exposure to the new COVID variant do symptoms appear?

Symptoms typically appear between two to 14 days after exposure to the new variant and last up to two weeks. 

Who is most at risk of the new COVID strain?

The new COVID strain appears to be better at evading immunity from a previous infection or vaccine. Therefore, most people are at risk of infection if exposed. Those who are elderly or immune-compromised are more likely to experience severe disease. 

How do I know which COVID variant I have? 

You likely will not know which COVID variant you have, as standard COVID testing does not identify specific strains. Since symptoms are similar between variants, the treatment you may require does not vary depending on the strain. 

Are home COVID tests still reliable?

Yes, at-home COVID tests are reliable but may not detect an early infection. If you believe you have COVID but have tested negative, it is recommended that you repeat the test after 48 hours. 

Visit our urgent care centers for new variant testing

During this winter season, many viruses are circulating, including RSV, the flu and COVID-19. Strep throat can also cause similar symptoms to these viruses, although it is not a viral infection. Unfortunately, you can have multiple viruses at once, which could make you feel awful. 

Our urgent care centers are open 365 days a year, seven days a week, with extended hours to help the whole family feel better sooner. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or another virus and want to confirm the diagnosis or get treatment options, find the center nearest you. We offer rapid and other COVID-19 testing options at all our urgent care centers. 

To get started, find the center nearest you and walk in or save your spot online. If you are unsure if you need an in-person appointment, schedule a virtual visit with one of our knowledgeable providers. 

We look forward to helping you feel better soon!


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/respiratory-viruses/whats-new/JN.1-update-2024-01-05.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/respiratory-viruses/whats-new/covid-19-variant-update-2023-11-27.html
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/duration-isolation.html
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/respiratory-viruses/whats-new/covid-19-variant.html
  6. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/coronavirus-covid-19-and-medical-devices/home-covid-19-diagnostic-tests-frequently-asked-questions

By Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant

Medically reviewed by J.D Zipkin, MD, MA, FAAP