The “FLiRT” variant refers to a new group of COVID-19 variants that have emerged and are spreading in the United States and potentially other regions. The term “FLiRT” is an acronym derived from the technical names of the mutations present in these variants. Among them, the KP.2 variant has become the dominant strain, making up about 25% of new cases in the U.S. as of late April 2024. 

The FLiRT variants, including KP.2 and KP.1.1, are descendants of the Omicron subvariant JN.1, which was responsible for a surge in cases over the past winter. These variants exhibit changes in the spike protein that may enhance the virus’s ability to infect cells, potentially increasing transmissibility. 

Symptoms associated with the FLiRT variants are similar to previous COVID-19 strains, including sore throat, runny nose, cough, fever, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, and gastrointestinal issues like mild diarrhea and vomiting.  Despite the rise in cases, current immunity from vaccinations and past infections should still provide protection against severe illness for most people, although those who are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions remain at higher risk. 

Health experts recommend staying updated with COVID-19 vaccinations, particularly for older adults and those with higher risk factors, to mitigate the impact of these new variants.