On August 9, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the latest COVID variant, EG.5.1, unofficially known as, Eris, as a variant of interest. Though the overall risk evaluation by WHO places this variant at a low level, medical professionals advise people to remain vigilant, assuring that there’s little cause for concern as only a single case was reported in the country.
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Dr. Kiran Madala, scientific committee convenor of the Indian Medical Association, Telangana State, said that the sole case of EG.5.1 detected in the country was on May 10 in Maharashtra. Since then, a total of 335 samples have been collected from across the country, with 30 from Telangana, and none of them have tested positive thus far. EG.5.1 displays moderate growth advantages, a moderate level of antibody escape, and low severity.
EG.5.1 is a descendant of the XBB 1.9.2 variant, sharing a similar spike amino acid profile with XBB 1.5. Its emergence was first documented on February 17, leading to its designation as a variant under monitoring (VUM) on July 19. By August 7, 7,354 sequences of EG.5 had been submitted to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) from 51 countries.
The majority of these sequences originated from China - 2,247, followed by the United States of America - 1,356, Republic of Korea - 1,040, Japan - 814, Canada - 392, and Australia - 158. While some countries, such as Japan and the Republic of Korea have observed simultaneous increase in the proportion of EG.5 and COVID-19 hospitalisations (which remain lower than previous waves), no definitive links have been established between these hospitalisations and EG.5.
As India currently navigates between waves of the cyclical disease, a smaller wave in April 2023, largely caused by the XBB version of omicron, followed the surge and decline of Covid over the past three years. Before XBB, variants such as BA.5, BA.2, and others had appeared. Despite the lower case numbers since the last wave, people must recognise that the threat has not disappeared entirely. The rising numbers in the genetic structure of EG.5.1 warrants attention, and it’s essential to prevent unrestricted spread in India. The appropriate vaccine policy remains unclear at this time, with uncertainties surrounding the potential proportional benefit of additional doses, said Dr. Rajeev Jayadevan, Co-Chairman of the National IMA Covid Task Force.
The WHO reported that EG.5 carries an additional F456L amino acid mutation in the spike protein, compared to the parent XBB.1.9.2 subvariant and XBB.1.5. Within the EG.5 lineage, the subvariant EG.5.1 has an additional spike mutation Q52H and represents 88% of the available sequences for EG.5 and its descendent lineages.
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Meanwhile, doctors have advised people to wear masks.
Dr P Saketa Reddy, general physician based in Hyderabad, said that apart from vaccines, the major helpful factor in the fight against covid has been masks, social distancing and hand washing. The past few viruses after omicron were faster spreading but the intensity of it was low, people should follow proper precautions, he said.