A new variant of the COVID-19 virus, dubbed EG.5.1 or ‘Eris’, has sparked global health concerns.
This new variant first emerged in the United Kingdom at the end of July 2023 and has been linked to a surge in hospitalized patients. Classified as a variant by the UK on 31 July, ‘Eris’ is now responsible for one out of every ten COVID-19 cases in the country.
According to a report released by the UK Health Security Agency on August 3, the number of COVID-19 cases has continued to rise compared to the previous two weeks.
The ‘Eris’ variant is believed to have emerged in the UK due to mutations in the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
‘Eris’ has quickly become one of the fastest-growing variants worldwide and is one of several subvariants of Omicron that have spread globally over the past few months.
The Zoe health study, where individuals record their symptoms, estimates that 808,140 people in the UK are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. There have been 64,596 new daily cases reported, showing an upward trend since early July.
According to the Daily Mail, the spread of the ‘Eris’ infection has been attributed to factors such as the summer holidays and the simultaneous release of films, including Barbie and Oppenheimer, in late July. These releases led to significant crowds, particularly in cinemas.
The Zoe health study — the collaborative efforts made by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, King’s College London, Stanford University School of Medicine, and the health app ZOE — also indicates that the virus is spreading most rapidly in Northern Ireland, but cases have also been identified in England, Scotland, and Wales.
Data from the UK’s Health Security Agency indicates that 5.4% of individuals with respiratory illnesses last week tested positive for COVID-19, up from 3.7% the previous week. Hospital admission rates have also increased.
Across the ocean, the ‘Eris’ variant has been responsible for approximately 17% of cases in the United States, making it a primary driver behind the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
This variant has also been identified in countries such as South Korea, Japan, Canada, and Indonesia, where it was first detected in March 2023.
The Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID), a collaborative effort between the German government and non-profit organizations aimed at providing access to genetic information of epidemic-causing viruses, has recorded at least 12 cases of the ‘Eris’ variant in Indonesia, all from the Jakarta area.
Epidemiologist Dicky Budiman from Griffith University in Australia praised Indonesia’s detection and reporting system for the variant’s presence.
He highlighted that while the ‘Eris’ variant spreads more easily, it has not caused a significant increase in deaths or severity.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged the existence of the new COVID-19 variant, ‘Eris’, as a variant of interest. Although the public health risk is deemed minimal and non-threatening, the WHO continues to monitor the situation closely. ‘Eris’ is associated with the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.9.2.
It’s crucial to be aware of the symptoms associated with ‘Eris’, which include cold-like symptoms, headaches, varying levels of fatigue, sneezing, and sore throat.
WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, has emphasized that while ‘Eris’ is more transmissible, it does not appear to be more severe than other Omicron sublineages.
However, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that only 11% of cases related to the ‘Eris’ variant have resulted in hospitalization or ICU admission.
WHO has issued guidelines for handling COVID-19 and urges countries to continue reporting data, especially death and morbidity statistics, and to provide vaccinations.
Since the emergence of COVID-19, the virus has claimed over 6.9 million lives worldwide, with more than 768 million confirmed cases.
The pandemic was declared in March 2020, and the global emergency status for COVID-19 ended in May of this year. As of July 1, 2023, Asia’s COVID-19 death toll accounted for 22.45% of global cases.
India leads in COVID-19 deaths with 531.9 thousand reported deaths, while Indonesia follows closely with 161.87 thousand deaths.
The emergence of the ‘Eris’ variant underscores the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19 and the importance of international collaboration in tracking and responding to new variants.
Global health organizations are closely monitoring the situation and urging continued vigilance and cooperation among countries.