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COVID variant Eris raises concerns as health officials monitor potential threat

Article-COVID variant Eris raises concerns as health officials monitor potential threat

Image via Canva Pro eris
WHO designates EG.5, otherwise known as Eris, and its sub-lineages as a ‘variant of interest.’

A novel strain of COVID-19, named Eris has been labelled as a variant of interest by the World Health Organisation (WHO) despite being assessed as low risk to public health.

Eris, also known as EG.5, comes from the lineage of Omnicron or XBB.1.9.2. Its prevalence is rapidly expanding worldwide, affecting countries like the UK, China, and the US and most recently, the Middle East region.

Health authorities in Kuwait have confirmed that the latest strain of COVID-19 has been detected in the country.

Although the acute chapter of the pandemic was a thing of the past with WHO declaring COVID-19 as no longer a global health emergency, the emergence of the Eris has witnessed cases of COVID increase in recent weeks, with infection numbers rising to 7.2 per 100,000 in the last month.

Spread of Eris strain worldwide

EG.5, is a sub-variant of the Omicron strain of COVID-19. Omicron initially gained notoriety for triggering a surge in infections around the world in late 2021. WHO designated EG.5 as a variant of concern as it is currently spreading in over 51 countries, including Australia, Canada, China, France, Spain, and the UK.

Related: The rise of Omicron: what does it mean for the healthcare community?

In the US, EG.5 has taken a significant hold, becoming the dominant strain of COVID-19. According to data from the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 17.3 per cent or one in six new COVID cases in the country can be attributed to its sub-variant, EG.5.

Symptoms and impact of Eris

EG.5 presents a range of symptoms that varies from person to person. For most individuals, the symptoms are relatively mild and include a dry cough, headaches, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and fatigue. However, the overall impact and severity of the COVID variant remain subjects of ongoing research and investigation, according to Dr. Kristin Englund, Infectious Disease Specialist at Cleveland Clinic.

Healthcare system response and vulnerable populations

Healthcare systems, including institutions like the Cleveland Clinic, have observed a slight increase in COVID-related cases and visits to emergency departments. “COVID is contagious, and anyone can get the virus. However, we know that there are populations who are at an increased risk for serious illness and hospitalisation if they get it,” said Dr. Englund.

Related: Latest COVID spike raises alarm: What's next?

EG.5, like its predecessors, is highly contagious, affecting individuals across all age groups. However, certain populations are more vulnerable to severe illness and hospitalisation. The CDC highlights that older individuals, those who are immunocompromised, individuals with specific disabilities, and those with underlying health conditions are at high risk.

Preventive measures to control the spread of Eris

Health officials stress the importance of individual and collective actions to control the spread of EG.5 and other COVID variants. The most effective method of protection is getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and receiving booster shots when recommended.

In addition to vaccination, Dr. Englund recommends:

  • Hand hygiene: Wash hands with soap and water regularly or use hand sanitisers.
  • Mask usage: Use masks, especially in crowded or poorly ventilated settings.
  • Staying home when sick: Avoid public spaces and gatherings when experiencing symptoms of illness.
  • Avoiding crowded spaces: Minimise time spent in enclosed areas with poor ventilation.

As the situation with the COVID-variant Eris unfolds, health authorities focus on the need to be vigilant, staying informed through reliable sources, and following guidance from public health agencies. The collective efforts of individuals, communities, and nations are essential in navigating the challenges posed by this new phase of COVID variants, according to WHO.

 Timeline of COVID-variant Eris (EG.5)

Source: World Health Organisation (WHO)

  • February 17, 2023: EG.5, a descendant of XBB.1.9.2 with a similar amino acid profile to XBB.1.5, was identified. 
  • June 19 to July 23, 2023: EG.5 is most reported at 49.1 per cent. 
  • July 19, 2023: It was designated a Variant Under Monitoring (VUM). It carries the F456L mutation compared to its parent subvariants and has a subvariant EG.5.1 with an additional Q52H spike mutation.
  • August 7, 2023: Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) received 7,354 EG.5 sequences from 51 countries, predominantly China (30.6 per cent), followed by the US (18.4 per cent) and Korea (14.1 per cent). EG.5 prevalence rose from 7.6 per cent to 17.4 per cent between weeks 25 and 29 of 2023. 

Despite its prevalence, the global public health risk of EG.5 is assessed as low, showing increased prevalence and immune escape properties without changes in disease severity. WHO recommends member states take actions, such as sharing growth advantage information, conducting neutralisation assays, and evaluating severity indicators. The risk evaluation will be updated as more data become available. 

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