WHO adds Omicron EG.5 to variant monitoring as global COVID markers decline further

Omicron variant

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The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday added EG.5 to the list of Omicron variants under monitoring (VUM), as most indicators for tracking COVID-19 activity declined, the group said in its latest weekly update.

EG.5 is a descendant of XBB.1.9.2, with one extra spike mutation. Global prevalence has been rising since the end of May. The WHO now has seven VUMs. The number of variants of interest remains at two, including XBB.1.5, which is steadily declining, and XBB.1.16, which is holding steady at 20.7% of sequences.

US among countries seeing EG.5 activity

The United States is one of the countries seeing rising EG.5 proportions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in its last estimates on Jul 8 that EG.5 made up 13% of samples. The WHO said so far there's no evidence that EG.5 is fueling any rises in cases or deaths or that infections involving the virus are more severe.

Other than XBB.1.9.2 descendant lineages, no other VUMs are showing rising proportions, the WHO said.

Few red flags with hospitalization, death indicators

In its illness tracking, the WHO said COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to decline globally, though it added that reduced testing and reporting mean that case trends don't accurately reflect COVID-19 activity, which it said still poses a burden in some countries.

Hospitalizations and deaths are more accurate indicators, the WHO said. Of the limited number of countries that regularly report hospitalization data, only one—Malta—had an increase of 20% or more over the past 28 days. Regarding intensive care unit (ICU) admissions for COVID-19, no countries that routinely report data showed an increase of 20% or more over the last month.

Only one region reported a rise in deaths over the last 28 days, the Western Pacific. Most of the rise appears to be from an increase in Australia, which reported a small rise in activity during the early months of the Southern Hemisphere winter.

At a WHO briefing yesterday on a host of different health issues, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said though people are better protected by vaccines and prior infection, countries shouldn't let down their guard.

"WHO continues to advise people at high risk to wear a mask in crowded places, to get boosters when recommended, and to ensure adequate ventilation indoors," he said. "And we urge governments to maintain and not dismantle the systems they built for COVID-19."

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