The World Health Organisation is currently tracking several coronavirus variants, including the EG.5 variant that is spreading in the U.S. and U.K., Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. The variant is causing about 17 per cent of the new Covid-19 cases in the country compared to 16 per cent for the next most common lineage, XBB.1.16, according to the latest estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new variant is a spinoff of the XBB recombinant strain of the Omicron family.
"The risk remains of a more dangerous variant emerging that could cause a sudden increase in cases and deaths," Tedros said, adding that the agency is publishing a risk evaluation report on it. EG.5, compared to its parent XBB.1.9.2, has one extra mutation to its spike, at position 465. This mutation has appeared in other coronavirus variants before. Scientists are still not aware of what the new mutation enables the virus to do.
The 465 mutation is present in about 35 per cent of coronavirus sequences reported worldwide, including another that’s rising in prevalence in the Northeast, FL.1.5.1, suggesting that it is conveying some kind of evolutionary advantage over previous versions. EG.5 now has its own offshoot, EG.5.1, that adds a second mutation to the spike. That one is also spreading rapidly.
A professor of microbiology and immunology, Dr David Ho has been testing these variants in his lab at Columbia University to see how resistant they have become to the antibodies we have to defend against them. Ho said in an email to CNN: “Both are only slightly more resistant to neutralizing antibodies in the serum of infected and vaccinated persons.”
Clinically, he said, these variants don’t seem to be causing different or more severe symptoms than the viruses that came before them. “It basically has some more immune escape compared to the ones that were precedents in this XBB series,” said Dr Eric Topol, a cardiologist at the Scripps Translational Research Institute.
“It has an advantage, which is why it’s getting legs all around the world.” EG.5 is also growing quickly in Ireland, France, the UK, Japan and China.
The WHO has upgraded its status from a variant under monitoring to a variant of interest, a move that signals the agency thinks it should be tracked and studied further.
(With ANI inputs)