Aug 11, 2023 - Health

What to know about latest COVID strain

Illustration of a COVID virus cell being overshadowed by a significantly larger COVID virus cell.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

While COVID-19 cases remain low in Seattle and Washington state, some researchers expect to see increased infections from a new strain that was named a variant of concern by the World Health Organization this week.

Driving the news: EG.5, a descendant of Omicron that's unofficially been nicknamed Eris on social media, was responsible for an estimated 17.3% of COVID-19 cases nationwide as of Aug. 5, up from 7.5% through the first week of July, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Washington is currently seeing only a very slight uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases, with 24 per 100,000 people reported at the end of July versus 18 cases per 100,000 people mid-month, according to the state Department of Health (DOH).

Yes but: In the last two weeks, there's been an increase in COVID-19 metrics, including COVID-19 emergency department visits, hospitalizations and individual case counts, according to Eric Chow, chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology and Immunization for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

The intrigue: Virus concentrations present in wastewater samples across the U.S. show that the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 particles in sewage are rising in all regions of the country, said Pavitra Roychoudhury, acting instructor at the department of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Zoom in: Of the 146 samples submitted to UW's Virology Lab that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in July, EG.5 was detected in 25, Roychoudhury told Axios.

  • She estimates that EG.5, which appeared on the East Coast and is expected to spread to the West like previous variants, may account for up to 30% of current cases.

What they're saying: "This seems to suggest EG.5 has an advantage over other variants and an indication we could expect to see a late summer wave of transmission," she said.

The big picture: With a Food and Drug Administration panel recently recommending vaccine manufacturers redesign their drugs to target descendants of the Omicron variant, some people are wondering whether to get their boosters now or wait for the new versions to come out.

  • Full recommendations for the updated COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax targeting XBB.1.5 have not yet been issued.
  • But DOH is urging people who haven't already gotten a bivalent booster to do so as soon as possible rather than waiting for future formulations.
  • Department spokesperson Raechel Sims told Axios that with no confirmed release date for an updated shot, those who haven't gotten a booster remain at elevated risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

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