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What is COVID KP.3 variant? Symptoms, CDC data, what to know about the newest COVID strain

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is tracking the new COVID variant KP.3 as data shows its dominance across the United States.

“CDC is tracking SARS-CoV-2 variant KP.3. For the two-week period ending on June 8, 2024, CDC predicts that KP.3 is growing and will become the most common SARS-CoV-2 lineage nationally,” CDC Spokesperson, Rosa Norman, said in a statement to USA TODAY. “(Our agency) is working to better understand its potential impact on public health.”

For the two-week period starting on May 26 and ending on June 8, the government agency data shows that KP.3 accounts for 25% of COVID cases in the U.S. and is now the dominant variant. This knocks down previous frontrunner, the JN.1 variant, which spread globally last winter. KP.2 is right after KP.3 and now makes up 22.5% of cases.

The CDC uses Nowcast data tracker to project the COVID variants over a two-week period. The tool is used to help estimate current prevalence of variants but does not predict the future spread of the virus, the CDC said.

Although predictions for KP.3 has shown a prominence in the Nowcast data, the CDC wants the public to know that the rates of infection might be lower than we expect.

“Currently, it is estimated that KP.3 viruses make up between 16% and 37% of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses in the United States,” Norman said. “Most key COVID-19 indicators are showing low levels of activity nationally, therefore the total number of infections this lineage may be causing is likely low.”

Norman also said that COVID related deaths and hospitalizations remain low since March 2020.

Here’s what the CDC wants you to know about the KP.3 variant.

COVID variant you should know about: KP.3 now makes up 25% of COVID cases

What is the KP.3 variant?

Like JN.1 and “FLiRT” variants KP.1.1 and KP.2, KP.3 is a similar strain. Norman explains that the KP.3 variant is, “a sublineage of the JN.1 lineage” which come from the Omicron variant.

“KP.3 evolved from JN.1, which was the major viral lineage circulating since December 2023,” Norman said. “It is very similar to JN.1 and only has two changes in spike compared to JN.1.”

What are symptoms of KP.3?

Norman says the symptoms associated with KP.3 are identical to those from JN.1. They include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • “Brain fog” (feeling less wakeful and aware)
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (upset stomach, mild diarrhea, vomiting)

The CDC notes that the list does not include all possible symptoms and that symptoms may change with new variants and can vary by person.

In general, the agency says, people with COVID-19 have a wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe illness. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.

What changes in the rate of infection have been spotted with the KP.3 variant?

Norman explained how the KP.3 has two spikes, the infection rate, unlike the JN.1 variant.

“One of the two changes in spike was observed in recent earlier lineages, including XBB.1.5 lineages, which were dominant throughout 2023 and the basis for the 2023–2024 vaccine formulation,” she said. “The second of the two changes were observed in some viruses circulating in fall 2021, but not since then.”

How can we protect ourselves if we are concerned about the KP.3 variant?

Norman suggests that everyone that is 6 months old and older get the 2023–2024 COVID-19 vaccine. She said the vaccine will help to protect against any serious illnesses from COVID.

When will the next Nowcast predictions become available?

Norman said the next prediction which will encompass two-week time period from June 9 to June 22 can be seen on the CDC website on the COVID Data Tracker on June 22.

COVID fall vaccine will target JN.1

The dominant emergence of the KP.3 variant comes on the heels of an FDA panel meeting last week to discuss updates to a COVID vaccine for the fall.

During the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, health experts from vaccine manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax each told the panel they were prepared to make JN.1-targeted vaccines available in August pending FDA approval.

The updated vaccines are set to be released in the fall, ahead of expected winter upticks in COVID-19 cases.

“The FDA and CDC are working together to make sure COVID-19 vaccines remain effective against current viruses,” Norman said.

Contributing:  Eduardo Cuevas, Gabe Hauari

Ahjané Forbes is a reporter on the National Trending Team at USA TODAY. Ahjané covers breaking news, car recalls, crime, health, lottery and public policy stories. Email her at aforbes@gannett.com. Follow her on InstagramThreads and X (Twitter).

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