Contagious disease outbreaks have always been present in history and still appear from time to time, immediately taking their place on the world’s agenda. Especially after the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, we have all become more aware of possible outcomes and the word “contagious” has become more concerning for us. For a while now those related terms have come into our lives once again, because of the latest global news in the context of healthcare.
Variant classifications are crucial tools for notifying governments and the public about the latest developments concerning epidemic diseases. And lately, a new subvariant of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19) is being researched by scientists all around the world since it has been detected in some COVID-19 cases and has been starting to spread, especially in Europe. It is now called “EG.5” (Eris, the Greek goddess of strife and discord) and it’s a subvariant of the Omicron variant. According to an initial risk evaluation report submitted by the WHO, the first case of Eris was first notified on 17 February 2023 and classified as a subvariant on 19 July 2023. Conforming to latest data, the severity of the disease is not much different from other variants, as further expressed by Scott Roberts, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Yale Medicine: “I am not aware of data that suggests EG.5 leads to worse cases of COVID-19 compared to prior variants”. Also, there is not a significant change in the hospitalization rates. However some researches show that it might be more transmissible and it is because Eris carries an additional amino acid mutation in the spike protein, which makes the virus enter the host cell more easily. It also showed an increase in growth advantage and immune escape properties.
The WHO further observed a globally steady increasing rate in EG.5 cases reported. Overall, 7354 sequences of Eris have been reported to GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data) from 51 countries; with 2247 of them reported from China, 1356 from the USA, 1040 from the Republic of Korea and the others reported from Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, the UK, France, Portugal and lastly Spain. The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Evolution of the WHO, suggests that the Member States should share sequence information of the subvariant, conduct neutralization assays and conduct studies to detect changes in rolling or ad hoc indicators of severity, in order to take specific actions for elimination uncertainties about the virus.
Dr. Roberts also stated that he expects a spike in COVID cases in the winter this year, as usual, so you might want to take your own measures in order to avoid the disease and its flu-like symptoms. Some personal protective measures include keeping a certain social distance from sick people or wearing a mask around them if needed, and making sure that you have completed your vaccination, and taking additional care of yourself. Furthermore, it is important to consider the safety of the people surrounding you, particularly people of vulnerable groups (elders and infants) by keeping track of your symptoms and avoiding contact in case of sickness.
Additionally, another development has brought up sexually transmitted diseases and infection rates to be discussed. According to RIVM, National Institute for Public Health and Environment of the Netherlands, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the verge of becoming more and more frequent among sexually active young adults. Dr. Rosa Joosten from RIVM reported that the disease “gonorrhea” has reached alarming case reports among heterosexual teens, and the responsiveness of antibiotics have been decreasing. Besides, certain treatment plans for STIs can have long term side effects and prevent pregnancy. As per the announcements from Dutch representatives, the safest way to prevent such infections is using protection. Considering that the rate of sexually active teens not preferring protection is as high as 4 in 10, the RIVM and the Municipal Health Service (GGD) will be distributing free condoms to teens especially during festivals and similar activities, in order to encourage its usage and eradicate the economic obstacle.
Having summarized the two most discussed developments of this July and August, we have also gathered more detailed information about the said diseases and precautions taken by the governments, and are waiting for more updates from professionals.
Written by: Şevval Kalkan
Edited by: Bilge Öztürk & Yağmur Ece Nisanoğlu
Katella, K. (2023, September 1). Omicron and its subvariants: A guide to what we know. Yale Medicine. https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/5-things-to-know-omicron
Covid-19 Salgını Ne Zaman Bitecek: Mutasyon Tahminleri Nasıl Etkiledi?. euronews. (n.d.). https://tr.euronews.com/2021/03/04/covid-19-salg-n-ne-zaman-bitecek-mutasyona-ugrayan-virus-bilim-insanlar-nda-gorus-degistir
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, August 23). Risk assessment summary for SARS COV-2 sublineage BA.2.86. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/respiratory-viruses/whats-new/covid-19-variant.html