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COVID-19 eris variant Children's Wisconsin

What families need to know about the COVID-19 Eris variant

In Greek mythology, Eris is the goddess of chaos. Eris is also the nickname given to a new COVID-19 variant — officially known as EG.5 — that has quickly become the dominant coronavirus strain circulating the globe.

So should families be worried about Eris wreaking chaos on the start of the school year? Here are the facts and how to keep your family healthy in the months ahead.

What is Eris?

Eris is a subvariant of Omicron, another COVID-19 variant that made headlines in late 2021 and 2022. The original strain of COVID-19 continues to mutate (change) into new variants and subvariants. This is to be expected — all viruses constantly mutate. It’s one of the ways viruses survive and continue to spread even as the population builds immunity. One example is the flu virus, which is why it’s important to get an updated flu vaccine every year. 

Eris was first reported in February 2023, but it really took off in late summer. In early August, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Eris to be a “variant of interest” that should be watched more closely. 

Eris was responsible for more than 20 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United States from Aug. 6-18. That’s more than any other strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Another Omicron variant, FL.1.5.1, came in second place as the cause of 13 percent of COVID-19 cases during that same period. 

How dangerous is Eris?

Early reports suggest Eris might be more easily spread and better able to evade our immune systems. The good news is Eris does not yet appear to be causing more severe disease, according to the WHO. It seems to cause the same upper respiratory symptoms of other Omicron variants: congestion, sore throat, fatigue and other cold-like symptoms.

That said, any strain of COVID-19 can turn serious for children and adults. That’s especially true for those who are immunocompromised or who have other pre-existing medical conditions, such as lung disease, diabetes, congenital heart defects or sickle cell disease. It’s worth noting that COVID-19 hospital admissions in the United States have climbed in recent weeks, possibly fueled by the spread of Eris. However, most of the country, including Wisconsin, is still seeing low rates of admissions related to COVID-19 — far lower than at the height of the pandemic.

Will the vaccine work against Eris?

Vaccination is still our best tool against this ever-evolving virus. The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older should receive the COVID-19 vaccine and booster. New COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be available in October. The latest vaccines were developed before the Eris surge but were designed for a very similar Omicron variant, XBB.1.5. So, this fall’s updated booster shots are expected to provide some protection. Moderna recently announced that its new COVID-19 vaccine was successful in generating “a robust immune response” (that is good!!) against Eris in an early clinical trial.

How to keep your family healthy

The combination of summer travel and kids filling classrooms again can lead to the usual uptick in infection, even without a new COVID-19 variant in the mix. Here are some tips to ward off illness this season. Remember that the best treatment is prevention:

  • Get vaccinated. Immunity wanes over time. So, it’s best to get your child’s COVID-19 booster taken care of before infections spike and you gather with family over the holidays. Children’s Wisconsin offers COVID-19 vaccinations at its primary care offices throughout southeastern Wisconsin. Make your appointment here.

  • Arm yourself against other seasonal illnesses. You can get your family’s flu shot — always a good idea — when you get your COVID-19 booster. This season we also have a new tool against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which swamped Children’s Wisconsin and other pediatric hospitals nationwide last winter. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new antibody drug to prevent RSV in children under the age of 2, who are at risk of more severe RSV. That drug, which is also a shot, is expected be widely available later this fall.

  • Stop the spread. If anyone in your family develops cold-like symptoms, take an at-home COVID-19 test, stay home if you’re showing symptoms and wear a mask around others to reduce the spread of infection. Follow the CDC’s guidelines if you know you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

  • Be cautious around crowds. Even if you’re feeling healthy, you might want to wear a high-quality mask at crowded indoor gatherings. That’s especially true if you need to stay well for an important event or if your child or another loved one is in a high-risk category.

  • Wash, wash, wash. As always, regularly wash your hands with warm, soapy water — or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

We know it’s frustrating to still be dealing with COVID-19. But with some common-sense precautions, you can minimize the disruptions to your family’s work, school and travel plans. You’ll also help keep our community as healthy as possible.