With the EG.5 variant recently becoming the dominant Covid-19 strain in the United States, concern is growing worldwide. However, experts are offering a reassuring message: this variant doesn't seem to be more threatening than others that have been circulating.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled EG.5 as a “variant of interest.” This classification comes as no surprise, given that the variant has genetic adaptations that may help it dodge some immune responses, possibly explaining its rise to prominence.
A Brief History
First identified in China in February 2023 and later detected in the U.S. in April, EG.5 is a descendant of the Omicron variant XBB.1.9.2. This lineage has led to one significant mutation that helps it evade some antibodies developed in response to earlier strains and vaccines.
Should We Worry?
While the variant's spread is concerning, Andrew Pekosz, a professor of molecular microbiology at Johns Hopkins University, believes it's not something drastically different from what has been around for the past few months. Even the WHO assesses the global public health risk posed by EG.5 as low.
The variant may have given Covid cases a nudge, but experts affirm that EG.5 doesn't have any new attributes regarding contagiousness, symptoms, or the likelihood of causing severe illness. Current diagnostic tests and treatments remain effective.
What About Vaccines?
The upcoming vaccine formulation, scheduled for rollout in the fall, is anticipated to provide better protection against EG.5. Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research expressed a concern for high-risk individuals, emphasizing that the new booster would bring more peace of mind.
A Watchful Eye on Other Variants
Scientists are closely monitoring other emerging strains, particularly those carrying the “FLip” mutations, which may make the virus more transmissible. Though currently a small proportion of Covid cases, these could influence infection rates in the coming months.
While the overall evolution of SARS-CoV-2 is a matter of concern, there's a collective agreement among experts that the situation is not akin to the surges witnessed with the first Omicron variant in the winter of 2022.
The best course of action remains to continue following public health guidelines, staying informed, and getting vaccinated with the latest available shots. Vigilance and proactive measures can ensure that we're prepared to face EG.5 or any other future variants, without undue alarm.