A new COVID-19 variant, named EG.5 or “Eris”, has emerged as the dominant strain globally, accounting for more than 20% of new cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)1. The variant is a descendant of Omicron, the first variant of concern that sparked the pandemic in 2019, and has one mutation that may help it evade some of the immunity that people have developed from previous infection or vaccination2.
The symptoms of Eris are similar to other strains of COVID-19, such as fever, fatigue, cough, sore throat, and loss of taste or smell3. However, some experts warn that the variant may be more transmissible than previous ones, and could cause a new wave of infections and hospitalizations in the coming months4.
The emergence of Eris comes as many countries are struggling to vaccinate their populations and contain the spread of the virus. The WHO has urged countries to increase their testing, tracing, and isolation measures, as well as to ensure equitable access to vaccines and treatments for all1. The WHO has also recommended that people continue to wear masks, practice physical distancing, and avoid crowded and poorly ventilated settings1.
The current COVID-19 vaccines are still expected to provide some protection against Eris, especially against severe disease and death2. However, an updated booster shot that targets the new variant is being developed and is expected to be available in Fall 20233. The booster shot may offer better protection than previous versions of the vaccine, which were based on older variants of the virus2.
In addition to vaccination, antiviral medications are also proving to be effective in shortening the length and severity of COVID-19, including subvariants like Eris3. These medications are available by prescription and should be taken as soon as possible after testing positive or being exposed to someone with COVID-193.
Eris is a reminder that COVID-19 still poses a risk to public health and that the virus continues to evolve. Virologists like Andrew Pekosz, PhD, professor in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Johns Hopkins University, say that it is important to monitor new variants closely and to adapt our response accordingly2.
“We’re not done with COVID just yet,” Pekosz says. “There’s a new COVID-19 subvariant to watch (and protect yourself from).”3