A new Covid-19 variant, EG.5.1, has been linked to an uptick in hospitalisations in the US and UK. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has added the Omicron subvariant, nicknamed Eris, to its monitoring list while health agencies and experts around the world are keeping a watch on the spread of the virus.

Here's what we know so far:

What is the new Covid-19 variant?

EG.5.1 is a subvariant of the Covid-19 Omicron virus (B.1.1.529). Eris is not its official name but has been suggested by users and health experts on social media. The WHO has included it in its “variants under monitoring (VUMs)” list but has not categorised the virus as a variant of concern or interest yet.

According to Stuart Turville, virologist, researcher, and associate professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, the EG.5.1 variant is “a little bit more slippery” and “competitive” than its counterparts since it’s able to “navigate better the presence of antibodies” produced by vaccines, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Turville added that EG.5.1 is only incrementally different from other variants as it has evolved to get a better ability to “engage and enter cells a little bit better”, the report added.

Professor K. Srinath Reddy at the Public Health Foundation of India said that EG.5 belongs to a family of subvariants that come under the Omicron variant. The physician said it is “less invasive and lethal to the body” and “this still remains the general observation”, according to The Washington Post report.

Where is it spreading?

According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), EG.5.1 “was first raised as a signal in monitoring on July 3, 2023 as part of horizon scanning due to increasing reports internationally, particularly in Asia”.

EG.5.1 was then officially classified as a variant on July 31 “due to the increasing number of genomes in UK data, and continued growth internationally”.

The UKHSA said that 11.8 per cent of samples sequenced in the week beginning July 10 in the UK were classified as EG.5.1. Eris has become the second most prevalent variant in the UK at 14.55 per cent after Arcturus and had a weekly growth rate of 20.51 per cent as of July 20. Arcturus, meanwhile, accounts for 39.35 per cent of all cases in the UK.

In the US, Eris has become the most prevalent Covid-19 variant. It had a prevalence of 17.3 per cent in the two-week period ending on August 5, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A case of Eris has also been detected in Pune city in western India. Dr Rajesh Karyakarte, coordinator for genome sequencing in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, told The Times of India: “EG.5.1 was detected in Maharashtra in May".

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of EG.5.1 are said to be similar to Omicron.

These include sore throat, coughing, changes to sense of smell, headache, sneezing, and fatigue, among others.

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