What we know about ‘Eris’ – DW – 08/16/2023

More than three years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization has ended the global public health emergency on May 5, 2023.

But at the same time, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, indicated that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID, has not been completely defeated, that it has continued to circulate in the world and that we can still see the emergence of variants. new and more dangerous.

And here’s where we come in now: There’s a new type of COVID: EG.5, also known as Eris. We don’t know yet if they are more dangerous than the previous variants.

WHO classified EG.5 as a variable of interest (VOI). At the time of writing, it is not variable of interest (VOC), which is a step worse than variable of interest.

Variables of concern are those that have characteristics that have a significant impact on the spread of the virus – due to higher infection rates and higher infection rates, or the increase in severe cases of disease and death rates from coronavirus.

EG.5 is one of three variants on the WHO watch list. The other two are XBB.1.5, which is largely in circulation in Europe and the Americas, and XBB.1.16, which is prevalent in Asia.

Eris is just a nickname for EG.5

T.Ryan Gregory, a Canadian evolutionary biologist based at the University of Guelph, Ontario, has studied subspecies EG.5.1 (ED: Note the addition of the “.1” indicating that this is the first version of EG.5) and posted a comment about his nickname, Eris, suggesting that the nickname might lead to some confusion as we talk more and more about the alternative.

Eris is also the name of one of the largest dwarf planets in our solar system – Eris is the Greek goddess of chaos. But, notes Gregory, the moniker is unlikely to cause much of a wave by itself.

How has EG.5 spread so far?

5 has been classified by the World Health Organization as a VOI due to the high infection rates attributed to the variant, the fact that it spreads rapidly and its ability to so-called ‘immune escape’.

EG.5 is a descendant of XBB. 1.9.2. It has an additional spike mutation that may explain why it is able to evade the response of the human immune system.

This is according to the Neherlab research group, based in Biozentrum, University of Basel, Switzerland. In a variable report by Neherlab published at the end of June 2023, EG.5 has already been described as the “fastest growing strain with significant circulation” in the world.

EG.5 “may also be a slightly beneficial mutation,” the report said.

Neherlab data indicates that EG.5 was first detected in February 2023 in Indonesia and the following month in the USA.

EG.5 was also on the agenda for a virtual press conference hosted by the World Health Organization on July 27, 2023. During the briefing, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19, said, β€œAll variants that we are detecting that are subspecies of Omicron have increased growth rate.”

This “raises the idea that this virus continues to spread and continues to change,” Van Kerkhove said.

In its initial risk assessment report EG.5 (August 7, 2023), the WHO said the variant had been sequenced more than 7,350 times, with samples from 51 countries.

Most of the variant sequences were from China, with 30.6%, or 2247 sequences. Other countries listed with at least 100 sequences included the USA, South Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, France, Portugal and Spain.

Why do we still have to “monitor” COVID

At the end of July, Van Kerkhoven said: “We’re not seeing the same level of impact in terms of hospitalizations and deaths because people are largely protected from vaccination but also from previous infection, so we have some immunity that’s been built.”

But Van Kerkhove says there is concern that “we’re likely to see new variants that could be more dangerous and that’s something we have to watch out for (…)”.

As a result, epidemiologists have warned that it is important that states continue to report rates of COVID-related deaths, hospitalizations, and cases requiring intensive care. But in July, only a quarter of countries provided death rates to the WHO, and only 11% of countries provided data on severe cases.

Keeping the sequence going is also vital, Van Kerkhove said: “Make no mistake, the virus hasn’t gone away.”

However, it remains unclear whether EG.5 caused the latest spike in COVID cases. A doctor residing in the United States and Scientist Eric Topol said in a post that while it was important to “track the evolution” of the virus, there was no “clear (cause) and effect relationship with the current (small) increases in sewage, cases, and hospitalizations (…).”

This was supported by the WHO EG.5 risk assessment of 9 August.

COVID-19: seasonal effect

Despite the conclusions reached at the time of writing, the World Health Organization considers EG.5 likely to cause “an increase in the incidence of cases and become dominant in some countries or even globally” due to its “growth advantage and immune escape properties”. β€” as it was with other variants in the omicron strain of the virus.

For now, though, the consensus is that EG.5 isn’t much of a threat. The rise in cases can be explained by the fact that we (in the northern hemisphere) are in the midst of a summer COVID wave. During the summer heat, people tend to stay in air-conditioned places. The virus continues to mutate, the protection we had from previous infections decreases, and our risk of new infections increases.

So, it’s a good reminder for us to keep COVID-19 in plain sight. The latest reports indicate that updated COVID vaccines – to protect against new variants, including EG.5 – should be available in the coming months.

This article was originally published in German.

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