Eris variant: Everything we know about EG. 5, the Covid strain dominating the US

A new variant of Covid-19 known as EG5 is rapidly spreading and now accounts for almost one-fifth of cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of August 5th, EG5 accounted for 17.3% of American cases, up from 7.5% in the first week of July. This surpasses the prevalence of other variants such as XBB.1.16 (15.6% of cases), XBB.2.23 (11.2%), and XBB.1.5 (10.3%). The emergence of EG5 has raised concerns about a potential surge in infections.

The threat posed by a subvariant of the EG5 lineage, EG5.1, was highlighted by Professor T Ryan Gregory of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, in a social media thread. Professor Gregory referred to EG5.1 as “Eris” and warned about its increasing frequency, although it is not expected to cause a large wave of infections. The EG5 group’s emergence coincides with an increase in hospital admissions in the US, the first significant uptick since December 2022. The CDC reported a 12.5% rise in hospital admissions for the week ending July 29th, possibly due to increased summer socializing, waning immunity, and relaxed precautions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) added the EG5 lineage to its “variants under monitoring” list on July 19th, highlighting its relatively swift emergence since its discovery in Indonesia in February. Experts suggest that EG5 may have a “slightly beneficial mutation” that gives it an advantage over other variants. However, they note that there is little difference in symptoms and severity between the various strains currently circulating. This is partly because surveillance of the virus is less thorough than during the peak of the pandemic.

In the UK, where the Eris variant has also gained traction, the Zoe Health Study indicates that its symptoms are similar to those of Omicron. Common symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, headaches, fatigue, sneezing, sore throat, coughing, and changes in the patient’s sense of smell. The CDC advises individuals who test positive on a lateral flow test to isolate at home, wear masks, practice good hygiene, rest, and use over-the-counter treatments to manage symptoms. It is also recommended to stay updated on vaccine and booster shots, which are being modified to target the latest strains ahead of the fall flu season.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for the virus, emphasized the importance of surveillance and sequencing to stay ahead of emerging variants, even as the emergency phase of the pandemic has passed. In a press conference on July 26th, she highlighted that while the threat of Covid may have receded from the public consciousness, it still poses a danger that cannot be ignored.

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