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Latest strain of COVID is like the common cold

Do you have a slight cold? It could be the latest variant of COVID. The Omicron subvariant EG.5 is now the primary variant in the United States and, like other sub-variants, is affecting the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Aug. 8, EG.5 has surpassed the previous variant XBB.1.16, and makes up an estimated 17.3 percent of cases—up from about 12 percent of cases in July, and from about 1.1 percent by the end of May. The once-feared virus that caused controversial lockdowns and forced vaccinations has evolved into a strain that is no more deadly than the sniffles.

Meanwhile, XBB.1.16, now the second most prevalent strain, accounts for around 15.6 percent of cases.

The EG.5 variant is under the omicron family. It originates from the XBB.1.9.2 lineage with an added mutation. So far, it doesn’t seem to be causing more severe illness than other strains.

Symptoms of EG.5 are similar to those of previous COVID-19 strains and that of the common cold, such as sore throat, runny nose, congestion, cough, and fever. Some reports have said EG.5 is more often associated with symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, and a dry cough.

Distinguishing an EG.5 infection from other respiratory illnesses like the flu or common cold can be challenging due to seasonal fluctuations and limited testing. But the similar symptoms suggest the response and treatment strategies should generally align with those used for prior COVID-19 strains.

The Biden administration officially ended the United States COVID-19 public health emergency in May. As such, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many states no longer track national COVID-19 case rates.

By this fall, updated COVID-19 vaccines targeting the omicron strain XBB.1.5 are expected. XBB.1.5, listed by the WHO as a “variant of  concern,” previously dominated transmission in the United States for several months straight but was taken over by XBB.1.16 in July.

Health officials anticipate the latest booster vaccines to offer adequate cross-protection against severe disease and hospitalization for prevalent strains like EG.5.

Still, Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax are developing these updated doses of the XBB update, pending approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommendations for their use by the CDC. The federal agency has come under criticism for promoting yearly “boosters.”

The new CDC director, Dr. Mandy Cohen, anticipates that these vaccines will be available at common locations like pharmacies and anticipates an annual COVID-19 shot, integrating it into routine health practices.

–Wire services

Photo: Vera Kratochvil

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