Surge in COVID-19 Infections and Hospitalizations Evident Across the Globe: EG.5 ‘Eris’ Variant Draws Attention
As COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions continue to rise in various regions including the U.S., Europe, and Asia, health authorities are highlighting the EG.5 ‘Eris’ coronavirus, a subvariant originating from the Omicron lineage first identified in November 2021. But what exactly is this newly identified ‘Eris’ variant?
The EG.5 variant, affectionately dubbed ‘Eris’ by some, has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a ‘variant of interest.’ This designation indicates a need for heightened observation due to potential mutations that could impact transmissibility or severity. However, the WHO clarifies that, at present, there is no conclusive evidence suggesting that EG.5 poses a more significant risk to public health compared to other variants. Furthermore, no direct correlation has been established between EG.5 and increased disease severity.
The Rate of ‘Eris’ Variant Transmission
According to the WHO, the ‘Eris’ variant has been detected in over 50 countries as of August 8. Notably, it has emerged as the predominant and most rapidly spreading COVID-19 subvariant within the United States. This particular variant is estimated to be responsible for approximately 17% of the current COVID-19 cases in the country, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While recent data indicates a more than 40% increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations compared to the lows observed in June, it is important to note that these figures remain markedly below the peak levels recorded during the Omicron outbreak in January 2022.
Noteworthy Upward Trends
Recent developments have shown significant upward trends in various indicators. This includes an escalation in the presence of the virus detected in wastewater samples across the nation, as well as a notable uptick in the number of weekly prescriptions for the COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid. While these trends are noteworthy, it is essential to recognize that the starting point for these increases was relatively low.
Anticipating the Arrival of the New Booster
Prominent vaccine manufacturers including Pfizer/BioNTech SE, Moderna, and Novavax have all taken steps to produce updated versions of their vaccines. These updated vaccines target a different sublineage of the Omicron variant, known as XBB.1.5. This adjustment aims to enhance compatibility with the various strains of the virus currently in circulation.
While EG.5 shares certain similarities with XBB.1.5, the more recent subvariant presents an additional mutation in its spike protein—a key target for the vaccine’s efficacy.
XBB.1.5, which emerged towards the end of 2022, still contributes to more than 10% of infections as of August 5, as estimated by the CDC. Dr. Mandy Cohen, the Director of the CDC, has recently indicated that the new and updated vaccines are projected to become widely accessible in the U.S. by the 3rd or 4th week of September.
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