26 August 2023 | Abuja â€“ Official Statement on the new COVID-19 Subvariants
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) is monitoring the new subvariants (descendants) of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, named EG.5 and BA.2.86. The EG.5 variant is a descendant of XBB.1.9.2 (itself a descendant of Omicron). As of 7th August 2023, the EG.5 has been reported in fifty-one (51) countries including China, the United States of America, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Spain etc. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified EG.5 as a "variant of interest" (VOI) and conducted a risk assessment which found this new variant poses a low risk at the global level. In addition, EG.5 has not been associated with any change in symptoms/clinical manifestation and has not produced an increase in severity of illness and/or hospitalisations or difference in death rates in reporting countries. EG.5 causes symptoms like those seen with other COVID-19 variants, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, and sore throat. So far, only one case of EG.5 has been seen in Africa, it has not been identified in Nigeria.
The recently discovered/reported BA.2.86 is a descendent lineage of BA.2 (a sublineage of Omicron, also found in Nigeria in 2022). As of August 23, 2023, the BA.2.86 variant had been reported in a handful of countries - the United Kingdom, Israel, Denmark, South Africa, and the United States. It has been classified by the WHO as a "variant under monitoring" (VUM) because it has multiple genetic differences that make it substantially different its ancestor, BA.2 and from other currently circulating XBB-derived SARS-CoV-2 variants. Since there are few cases identified so far, there is not enough information to make conclusive assessments of virulence, transmission, and severity. However, we do not expect it to be much different from other omicron descendants currently circulating. Although the ancestor, BA.2 has been previously found in Nigeria, no BA.2.86 variant has been identified in Nigeria.
The NCDCâ€™s COVID-19 Technical Working Group (COVID-19 TWG) is closely monitoring COVID-19 epidemiology â€“ local, regional, continental, and global â€“ including emerging variants. Our influenza sentinel surveillance sites continue to provide information on COVID-19 prevalence in patients with influenza-like illness and severe acute respiratory illness. We have not observed any increase in trend of COVID-19 in this patient group. We continue to carry out genomics surveillance even with the low testing levels and encourage testing locations in states to ensure their positive samples are sent on to the NCDC for sequencing. Unrelated to the news of these emerging variants, the NCDC and partners are working on implementing an enhanced COVID-19 testing exercise in four states to obtain complementary and more detailed information about circulating variants in the country. In addition, COVID-19 rapid diagnostic kits are being distributed for the purpose of improving bi-directional COVID-19 testing.
We urge fellow citizens including media practitioners to act responsibly and share only verified information. There is no need to cause unnecessary anxiety and panic. As we have consistently advised, COVID-19 is here to stay and is now mainly a problem for those at high risk â€“ the elderly, those with underlying chronic illnesses especially hypertension, diabetes, those on cancer treatment, organ transplant recipients and those whose immune systems are suppressed for one reason or the other.
The actions required to protect our friends, families and selves remain the same as before:
â— Get tested for any febrile illness and respiratory symptoms regardless of how mild. Prompt testing can help identify cases with high risk of become severely ill and also provides samples for testing that provide information on circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants and disease trends.
â— Ensure you and your loved ones make use of every opportunity the government has provided to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccination protects against severe disease symptoms, hospitalisation and death should you contract the virus.
â— Continue the practice of good hand hygiene by washing hands regularly with soap under running water.
â— Wear a mask if you have flu-like symptoms like coughing, sneezing etc. If you are at risk of severe disease, use a mask in crowded and other high-risk situations.
We continue to monitor situations around the globe and especially in countries where the new variant has been confirmed and keep Nigerians updated as may be required with scientifically sound and evidence-based information on any changes in SARS-COV-2 epidemiology and genomics that may threaten public health.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) is the countryâ€™s national public health institute, with the mandate to lead the preparedness, detection, and response to public health emergencies. The Bill for an Act to establish NCDC was signed into law in November 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari. The mission of the NCDC is to protect the health of Nigerians through evidence-based prevention, integrated disease surveillance and response, using a One Health approach, guided by research, and led by a skilled workforce.
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Dr Ifedayo Adetifa
Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.