- Variant EG.5, nicknamed “Eris,” is the new dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to the CDC.
- Per a CDC report, recent upticks in COVID cases are largely due to this newest subvariant.
- Experts explain what you need to know about the latest COVID surge.
Unfortunately, experts say COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. A new variant of concern, EG.5 variant unofficially called “Eris,” could be responsible for recent upticks in cases across the country. But just because this new coronavirus strain is gaining momentum, rest assured that does not mean that it will cause a worse infection, says David Cennimo, M.D., infectious disease expert and associate professor of medicine & pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
The EG.5 variant, a subvariant of Omicron, now makes up the largest proportion of new COVID-19 infections nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, as multiple parts of the country have been reporting their first upticks of the virus in months. Overall, as of last week, 17.3% of COVID-19 cases nationwide were projected to be caused by EG.5—more than any other variant or subvariant—up from 7.5% through the first week of July.
EG.5 includes a strain with a subgroup of variants designated as EG.5.1, which has been unofficially nicknamed “Eris.” Experts say EG.5 is one of the fastest-growing subvariants across the globe (likely due to what may be a more infectious mutation) quickly causing more infections in comparison to other variants and subvariants.
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What is EG.5, or the “Eris” variant?
EG.5 is a variant of the SARS CoV-2 virus that now seems to be gaining predominance in US infections of COVID-19, says Dr. Cennimo. “EG.5 is a descendent of the XBB strain that was a descendent itself of Omicron,” Dr. Cennimo says. In short, the virus continues to evolve, and EG.5 is the most recent mutation.
How contagious is EG.5?
Judging by the higher rates of people who have this variant, it might be a bit more contagious than previous strains, speculates Sharon Nachman, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “However, it’s hard to say definitively since we really don’t have the percentage of each variant across the country. This is especially important as we are not testing all patients, so it may be that more people are infected with other variants, but we are not counting them or not aware of them.” Each region in the US has different rates of each of the variants, she adds.
Should I be concerned about EG.5?
The World Health Organization (WHO) just dubbed EG.5 a variant of interest. But, Dr. Cennimo says that the EG.5 variant does not seem all that different from the current circulating variants. “Meaning, we have not seen an increase in severity of infection, nor does it seem more infectious.” If this strain is becoming dominant, that also does not mean that it will cause a worse infection, he adds.
How can I distinguish EG.5 from other variants?
The short answer is that EG.5 is not distinguishable clinically from any other form of SARS-CoV-2, says Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Meaning, this strain looks and feels very similar to other Omicron and Omicron subvariant infections.
The symptoms of EG.5 appear to be the same as previous strains, says Dr. Cennimo, “and you would need a research lab to distinguish this form from other COVID infections; our standard tests will still be positive with any of the variants.”
What are the symptoms of the EG.5 variant?
Right now, the symptoms of the EG.5 variant do not appear to differ from previous strains, says Dr. Nachman. “These include sore throat, runny nose, cough, URI [upper respiratory infection] symptoms, and low-grade fevers.”
According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of COVID-19, are still:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Is there a vaccine for EG.5?
The vaccine that will be used this fall includes all XBB subvariants, says Dr. Nachman. “EG.5 or Eris is one of several closely-related Omicron subvariants that have been competing for dominance in recent months and is a descendant of the XBB strain.”
While there is not a specific vaccine targeting this subvariant, current vaccines will still prevent severe disease from any variant, says Dr. Adalja.
Does EG.5 increase the risk for Long COVID?
We do not have specific data as to which people or which variants are more or less likely to be associated with long COVID, says Dr. Nachman. “Relating long COVID risk to a current circulating strain is too short a timeline at this point.” However, what we do have is interesting data that suggests that vaccination lowers the risk of long COVID, even among those who get covid after vaccination, she notes.
The bottom line
There will continue to be new variants arising—that’s how virus evolution works—but they are not likely to pose major problems like prior variants because of the level of immunity in the population that guards against severe disease, says Dr. Adalja. Plus, antivirals such as Paxlovid work extremely well irrespective of variants, he notes.
Like all other COVID strains, they are highly infectious, says Dr. Nachman. “So if you are able to test and have COVID, please try to cut the transmission of this virus by not going to work or school. If you are unable to stay home and have COVID, please consider masking when out of the house.”
This article is accurate as of press time. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the coronavirus develops, some of the information may have changed since it was last updated. While we aim to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news. Always talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.
Madeleine, Prevention’s assistant editor, has a history with health writing from her experience as an editorial assistant at WebMD, and from her personal research at university. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience—and she helps strategize for success across Prevention’s social media platforms.