A new variant of Covid is now dominant in the US, which may explain why rates are rising for the first time this year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that, as of Friday, more than one in six Covid cases is expected to be caused by Omicron’s EG.5 subvariant, more than any other variant. One strain, EG.5.1, has been nicknamed ‘Eris’.
The experts have saying that EG.5 is one of the fastest growing variants worldwide, which could be due to a ‘slightly beneficial mutation’, meaning it is spreading faster than its relatives.
While US covid hospitalizations increased 12 percent between the week ending July 15 and the week ending July 22, covid rates remain at record lows. Recent deaths have also been flat and are at their lowest levels since covid emerged, around 500 a week.
The proportion of Covid cases that are due to the EG.5 variant (shown in peach) has increased, and it is now the dominant variant
While Covid hospitalizations are rising, Covid rates remain at record lows. Recent deaths have also been flat and are at their lowest levels since Covid emerged, around 500 a week.
At the peak of the pandemic in January 2022, hospitalizations reached 150,674. At this time last year, there were just over 44,000.
In the first week of July, 7.5 percent of Covid cases were due to EG.5. Now, 17.3 percent of the cases are.
Some experts said the recent spike in cases could be due to the rush to see Barbie and Oppenheimer, meaning people were crammed into packed theaters.
But they said it’s still too early to tell if this has had an effect because it takes several weeks for infections to show up in hospitals.
After EG.5, the most common current variants are XBB.1.16 at 15.6%, XBB.2.23 at 11.2%, and XBB.1.5 at 10.3%.
EG.5. it is one of many very similar Omicron variants that have been vying for dominance recently.
They all descend from the XBB strain, against which covid vaccines will be designed this fall.
EG.5 has been added to the World Health Organization watch list under the name ‘E.G5#’, which is a general term covering the E.G5 lineage.
Officials have commented that while the symptoms and severity of the strains have been generally similar, identifying changes in the virus is becoming more difficult as virus surveillance has eased.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for Covid, said on July 26: “While the Covid emergency has been lifted and we are no longer in a crisis phase, the threat of Covid has not missing”.
“So keeping up with surveillance and sequencing remains absolutely critical.”
The CDC said earlier this year that it would change its rolling estimates from weekly to biweekly, hoping to gather large enough sample sizes to generate projections.
On Friday, the agency said for the first time that it could not publish its ‘Nowcast’ projections for hotspots of the EG.5 and other variants.
Only three areas, near California, Georgia and New York, had enough data to make the estimates.
‘Eris’ was given her unofficial name by biology professor T. Ryan Gregory and the nickname began making the rounds on social media.
About 96 percent of Americans have a level of immunity to Covid, estimates suggest, through a combination of past infections and vaccinations.
The covid vaccines were last released in the winter and their immunity against infection waned about six months later, although they still protect against serious illness.