Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

What to Know About ‘Eris,’ the Latest COVID Variant

With a summer surge, experts stress the importance of treatments and vaccines

spinner image digital illustration of a COVID viral cell on a red floor with its silhouette projected on an orange wall
Andriy Onufriyenko / Getty Images

After many months of declining numbers, the U.S. is experiencing a late-summer COVID-19 surge. Cases and hospitalizations are once again increasing, and so is the presence of what’s being called Eris (officially EG.5), a new version of the coronavirus that recently eclipsed the former top runner, Arcturus (XBB.1.16). 

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows EG.5 accounts for 20.6 percent of COVID infections, while a strain known as FL.1.5.1 is responsible for 13.3 percent of cases. An alphabet soup of other omicron variant spinoffs make up the rest of current infections.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

The newfound dominance of Eris “raises the point that this virus continues to circulate, and it continues to change,” the World Health Organization’s Maria Van Kerkhove said at a July news conference.

The good news, though, is that the precautions we relied on during the pandemic — such as frequent handwashing, wearing masks and avoiding crowded indoor spaces — still work. And experts say people at higher risk of complications from COVID, such as those with compromised immune systems, may want to consider reinstating some of them.

Additionally, a new round of COVID-19 vaccines designed to combat these latest variants should be available this fall — some experts predict by mid-September. Vaccine maker Moderna said in an Aug. 17 news release that its vaccine generated a strong immune response against EG.5 and FL.1.5.1.

Eris was first detected in February and has since been tracked in 51 countries, according to an Aug. 9 report from the WHO. And its global prevalence is increasing, the WHO notes. In mid-June, it was to blame for about 7.6 percent of global COVID-19 cases; by mid-July, that share jumped to 17.4 percent, leading the WHO to designate EG.5 a “variant of interest.”

Despite this latest subvariant’s growth advantage over its predecessors, experts say that so far, Eris doesn’t appear to make people sicker than its sibling strains.

Officials do note, however, that the subvariant’s characteristics may cause a rise in cases. And while we can’t say with certainty that Eris is behind the bump in cases in the U.S., “there’s a reasonable likelihood that the slight increase that we’re seeing in COVID activity is very possibly related to the coincidental finding of a new variant that is starting to become the predominant one,” says Steven J. Lawrence, M.D., professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Reduce your risk of illness — and more variants

With Eris in the news and COVID-19 cases on the rise, experts say it’s a good reminder that the virus has not gone away — and in fact, Lawrence predicts we’ll see even more activity as we head into the fall and winter months, when respiratory viruses tend to circulate at higher levels. But there are things you can do to lower your odds of getting sick from COVID-19.

“We have a lot of experience that masking is effective,” says Graham Snyder, M.D., an associate professor of infectious diseases at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at UPMC. “So if you are vulnerable because of a weak immune system or medical conditions, masking is still a way to keep yourself protected from being exposed to the virus in the first place.”


AARP® Vision Plans from VSP™

Exclusive vision insurance plans designed for members and their families

See more Insurance offers >

Avoiding large crowds indoors can also reduce your risk of infection. And don’t forget to test yourself if you’re feeling sick. “I still think it's important if you have a respiratory infection not to necessarily just write it off as a head cold,” says Snyder, who adds that COVID symptoms caused by Eris seem to be in line with previous omicron strains.

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134


Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you may be eligible for an oral treatment, like Paxlovid, that can significantly lessen the severity of the illness and reduce your risk of hospitalization. “I strongly recommend that anybody over 60, 65 who has COVID gets treated,” says Lawrence, who adds that Paxlovid and a similar pill called molnupiravir are still effective against the latest coronavirus variants, including Eris.

Most important, however, is to get vaccinated and to stay up to date on your shots. Everyone 6 months and older is eligible for a bivalent booster; adults 65 and older can go back for a second shot. A new vaccine that better targets the strains of omicron currently circulating will be available in the fall, health officials say. “And that’s something that honestly everybody should get,” Lawrence says, stressing its importance for people 50 and older.

Curious if you should boost now, with cases picking up, or wait for the new shot? Both Lawrence and Snyder say talk to your doctor about the best choice for your health status.

Not only will these measures help protect you, but some of them can help cut down on the overall transmission of the virus, which can help prevent more — and potentially more dangerous — variants from popping up in the future.

“The more [the virus] circulates, the more opportunity that it has to change,” the WHO’s Van Kerkhove says. “What our worry is, is that we could potentially see new variants that could be more severe and that’s something we have to keep an eye out for because we need to be keeping people well protected. With good surveillance, with good clinical care, with high levels of boosting, of vaccination among people who are most at risk, we can keep that impact low.”

Editor's note: This story, first published Aug. 10, 2023, has been updated to include new information.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?