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Exploring the Symptoms and Characteristics of the EG.5 Coronavirus Variant

A coronavirus test in Milford, Connecticut, in February 2022

U S Army/ZUMA Press Wire Service/Shutterstock

Reported cases of coronavirus are increasing worldwide, including in countries like the UK, US, and China. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently identified a subvariant of omicron called EG.5, also known as “Eris,” as a variant of interest. Governments have been advised to closely monitor it. Here’s what we currently know.

What is EG.5?

EG.5 is a descendant of the omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which was first detected in November 2021. It is closely related to another omicron subvariant called XBB.1.9.2 but has an additional spike protein mutation. It was given the nickname “Eris” by T. Ryan Gregory at the University of Guelph, Canada.

There is also an offshoot of EG.5 called EG.5.1, which has an additional spike protein mutation.

The WHO was informed of EG.5 on February 17th and put it under monitoring on July 19th. Due to an increasing number of recorded cases of EG.5, the WHO designated it, along with EG.5.1, as a “variant of interest” on August 9th, advising health authorities to monitor its transmission closely.

Where has EG.5 been identified? And how prevalent is it?

EG.5 has been reported globally in increasing numbers. In the week ending on July 23rd, 17.4% of all sequenced cases of SARS-CoV-2 were identified as EG.5, compared to 7.6% in the previous month.

As of August 7th, EG.5 cases had been reported by 51 countries, including China, the US, Australia, and Japan, to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data.

“EG.5 is gradually becoming the dominant variant in many countries,” according to Brian Willett at the University of Glasgow, UK, replacing its closely related subvariant XBB.1.16.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that EG.5 is responsible for around 17% of SARS-CoV-2 cases, making it the fastest-growing and most common variant in the country.

The UK Health Security Agency estimates that around 14% of SARS-CoV-2 cases in England are caused by EG.5.

Does EG.5 cause more severe illness than previous variants?

The WHO has assessed the health risk posed by EG.5 as being low and similar to other omicron subvariants.

“We don’t see a change in severity compared to other omicron subvariants,” said Maria Van Kerkhove at the WHO during a press briefing on August 9th.

Is it more contagious? And does it evade vaccines?

According to Willett, the additional spike protein mutation in EG.5 gives it a transmission advantage over previously dominant variants. This same mutation also affects how antibodies neutralize the virus, potentially enabling it to evade immunity from previous SARS-CoV-2 infections or vaccinations.

What are the symptoms of EG.5? How long do they last?

Similar to other SARS-CoV-2 variants, EG.5 commonly causes symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue, and loss of taste or smell. It can also lead to a sore throat, headache, body aches, diarrhea, rashes, and eye irritation.

The symptoms of EG.5 typically last no longer than other variants or subvariants of SARS-CoV-2, resolving within one to two weeks in mild cases.

How can we protect ourselves against EG.5?

For individuals at higher risk of COVID-19, such as older adults and those with compromised immune systems, it is crucial to stay up to date with vaccine doses. In the UK, for example, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has announced plans to vaccinate “at-risk” groups in the coming months.

“Immunity levels are declining as it has been some time since most people were vaccinated or received booster shots,” says Willett. Regular handwashing is still recommended to avoid infection.

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