- The symptoms of Eris are similar to previous strains of the virus, but Eris can more easily elude antibodies that people have developed from previous infection or vaccines.
- An updated booster shot, available in Fall 2023, may help protect people from Eris.
- Antiviral medications are still proving to be effective in shortening the length and severity of COVID-19, including subvariants like Eris.
We’re not done with COVID just yet.
There’s a new COVID-19 subvariant to watch (and protect yourself from): The new variant EG.5 —dubbed “Eris”—is now the dominant strain globally, with there being a noticeable spike in infections over the past four weeks, says the World Health Organization.
About 20.6% of new COVID-19 cases are thought to be caused by EG.5, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a significant jump from 7.5% during the first week of July.
So what should we expect from Eris as far as virality, symptoms and long-term effects? We’re breaking all that down, plus how it compares to the last headline-making XBB.1.5 (a.k.a. “Kraken”) subvariant that circulated earlier this year.
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What is EG.5, or the “Eris” variant?
EG.5 is a descendant of Omicron, just like XBB.1.5 was. This means the SARS CoV-2 virus continues to evolve, and Eris is just the latest mutation to keep an eye on. And with COVID-19 testing rates and reporting no longer as closely tracked like they were during the height of the pandemic, it’s especially important to take steps to protect yourself from getting sick whenever a new variant of concern begins to swirl.
What are the symptoms of EG.5?
The symptoms of Eris “are similar to other strains of Covid,” Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, a board-certified internist of integrative medicine and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic, tells Good Housekeeping. “It predominantly affects the upper airway.”
According to the CDC, these are potential COVID-19 symptoms to watch out for:
- Body chills
- Chronic cough
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion or runny nose
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing
- New loss of taste or smell
“So far, the evidence suggests that Eris is similar in severity to other variants,” Teitelbaum explains. Though there has been an increase in cases and hospitalizations, there’s no way of knowing whether it’s due to disease severity or transmissibility, says a recent JAMA report. And it’s definitely still an unknown how likely EG.5 is to result in long covid cases. Still, like with previous COVID-19 subvariants, there are certain populations who should continue to be especially vigilant, such as individuals age 65 and older and people with underlying medical conditions that make them susceptible.
How contagious is EG.5?
It’s a little too soon to know for sure, but early reports suggest that it may be more transmissible than previous subvariants, according to Yale Medicine experts. What’s a bit more worrisome is that EG.5 has a spike protein mutation that allowed it to evade neutralizing antibodies in a lab setting, says the JAMA report. Translation: If you get sick with Eris, you may not develop immunity that would prevent you from getting it again. This gives the new strain an edge over other recent former variations of the virus, making it potentially “easier to catch and transmit,” says Teitelbaum.
Is there a vaccine for EG.5?
There’s not an Eris-specific vaccine, but experts are optimistic that the forthcoming COVID-19 booster to target XBB.1.5 (coming this Fall) will offer some level of protection against EG.5 since the two subvariants are similar in structure. So once the official booster rollout begins, consider rolling up your sleeves and getting a fresh jab to better protect yourself from EG.5.
How to protect yourself from EG.5
The COVID-19 prevention tactics that we all mastered back in 2020 are still the best ways to protect yourself and others from EG.5:
- Be vigilant about handwashing
- Consider masking up when in a crowded indoor public space
- Test yourself for COVID-19 if you’re exhibiting symptoms (you can still buy at-home tests or get tested at your local urgent care or pharmacy)
- Stay away from others if you have symptoms that you think could be EG.5
It’s also smart to keep up with the lifestyle habits that support your immune system and overall health, such as eating a well-balanced diet that includes immunity foods, getting regular exercise, staying properly hydrated, and prioritizing sleep.
–Additional reporting by Alyssa Jung
Luisa Colón is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Family Circle, USA Today and many other print and online publications. Her first novel, Bad Moon Rising, will be released in August 2023.