Your 2024 Covid Survival Guide

As of March 11, 2024, we officially crossed the 4-year mark since the COVID-19 outbreak had been declared a pandemic. In this time, the virus has mutated and changed through multiple strains and variants. When the virus enters us, it grows by replicating itself. Sometimes, the virus doesn’t make copies with small changes. These are known as “variants.” When enough changes occur, the virus looks and acts differently enough that we call it a new “strain”. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron are examples of strains, whereas Xbb1.5, P.1 BA.2 etc. are variants.

The new dominant variant worldwide, including in Canada, is JN.1 — it’s of the omicron strain derived from BA.2.86. It doesn’t seem to produce more serious symptoms but may be better at avoiding our immune system.

So, what kind of symptoms can we expect? The general symptoms which emerged four years ago remain today: fatigue, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, headache, body aches and cough. It is important to recognize that even one symptom in isolation may still be a covid infection. Overall, while Covid symptoms from JN.1 are generally similar to earlier strains, symptoms such as dry cough and loss of taste are less frequent but gastrointestinal distress may be more common.

So, what do you do if you feel sick? Personal protective measures are effective actions to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Stay home when sick, wear a mask, improve indoor air flow, and wash or sanitize your hands. While the symptoms may seem milder, they can be deadly to those most vulnerable such as individuals with impaired immune systems and the elderly.

Vaccination is still an effective measure to reduce the spread of the vaccine. The current vaccine which covers the variant XBB1.5 should provide protection against the JN.1 variant, but people should be aware of their vaccine status. If it has been more than 1 year since your last vaccine, you may be vulnerable.

Finally, the antiviral, Paxlovid appears to work against the current variants. It is recommended for those who are highest risk of complications — such as the elderly and those with diseases such as asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes.

That’s what to expect from Covid today. While many people have gone back to pre-2020 behaviours, I can assure you, the virus has not been eliminated. With some care and due diligence, we can protect ourselves and those around us. Take care of yourselves and each other.

By: Steve Bond, BScPhm, RPh, CDE, FASCP