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What To Know About the EG.5 COVID Variant

Woman uses a home test to see if she has the EG.5 covid variant

A COVID-19 variant called EG.5 or “Eris” resulted in an uptick in illnesses. It's a strain of the Omicron variant that first emerged in 2021.

“As months and years go by, viruses mutate,” said Yale New Haven Hospital Infectious Disease specialist Scott Roberts, MD, assistant professor in infectious diseases at Yale School of Medicine. “With any COVID variant, it’s slightly different from what our body recognizes, so whatever immunity we’ve had, it’s slightly less effective with the new variant.”

Dr. Roberts answered some frequently asked questions about how to stay safe.

How does the Eris variant compare to other COVID surges?

The trend is showing a slow uptick over the past few weeks, but it’s still a far cry from previous peaks that resulted in hundreds of hospitalizations.

However, it is important to note that reporting is far different today compared to the early days of the pandemic. Most testing is now done at home. We are relying on wastewater data, staff callouts and hospitalization numbers to determine how much COVID is circulating in the community. Therefore, it’s possible there’s more COVID in our area than reported.

Do home COVID tests still work against this variant?

Yes. Studies concerning testing are ongoing, but home tests are still considered accurate because they use a different part of the virus that is not the spike protein. Therefore, home tests can still determine whether COVID is detected, regardless of the variant circulating. The available COVID treatments such as Paxlovid will also still be effective in helping to protect vulnerable patients from severe illness.

If it’s been a while since you needed to use a home test, double check the expiration dates of the ones you have. Those dates are there for a reason and an expired test may not work properly. However, expiration dates on some FDA approved home tests may be extended. The FDA has additional information on their website about tests that fit those criteria.

Do we need to wear masks again?

Masks can be helpful tools in helping to stop the spread of COVID, especially in high-risk situations such as crowded indoor settings. More vulnerable individuals (older or with comorbid medical conditions) or those who live with someone who is at risk of developing severe illness may choose to wear a mask in public spaces. If we continue to see a rise in cases, we may see a return to more consistent mask wearing.

I’ve already had COVID. Am I still at risk of getting the new variant?

Yes, it’s possible to get re-infected, especially since the virus is mutating and immunity is waning, although if you were recently infected the odds of re-infection are lower. We also know that the risk of long COVID is compounded by repeat infections, so take proper infection prevention measures and don’t attempt to get COVID on purpose.

Will there be a fall booster?

The FDA approved a new booster based on a recent variant, so it is still expected to be effective at preventing severe illness when exposed to EG.5.

Remember, vaccination remains one of the best things you can do to help protect yourself from COVID and other respiratory illnesses. That’s why staying up to date on flu shots and the RSV shot if eligible are encouraged as well.

“Our tools to prevent COVID have not changed and they’re still effective. That includes being up to date on vaccination, masking when appropriate, rapid testing, hand washing and distancing. All this still works,” said Dr. Roberts.