Covid-19: what are the Eris and Priola variants, symptoms to look out for as school starts and what experts have said

The two latest strains are Eris and Pirola
The two latest strains are Eris and Pirola

New variants of Covid-19 have emerged that have larger numbers of mutations than normal have sparked fears of a new wave of infections, just as children return to school after the summer holidays.

Eris, a subvariant of Omicron known as EG.5, has already began to sweep across parts of the US after first being detected in April.

Now, a new variant, Pirola or BA.2.86 is being closely monitored by the World Health Organisation.

The first case of this strain in the UK was detected in London and announced on Friday 18 August. So as the school year starts, what symptoms should you be on the look out for and what are the new Covid-19 variants? Here is what you need to know.

The government brought forward its autumn Covid booster vaccine drive this week in response to the discovery of the new variant, which has a similar number of mutations to Omicron and Delta.

Experts are optimistic that the booster will offer some protection but have said that “we don’t know yet” whether it will provide enough protection in all instances as its many mutations may mean it can evade the jab and some experts have called for people to begin wearing a mask again.

Dr Meera Chand, deputy director of the UKHSA, said: “We’re aware that BA.2.86 has been detected in the UK. UKHSA is assessing the situation and will provide further information in due course.”

What is Pirola?

Pirola is currently considered as a variant of Omicron but this may change depending on how quickly it begins to spread.

The variant, also referred to as BA.2.86, was found through genetic sequencing – a process where scientists determine the building blocks of a molecule’s DNA but scientists are on alert because of the high number of mutations of the variant, with more than 30 in the spike protein – the part of the virus that vaccines aim to neutralise.

The UK case had no recent travel history according to the UKHSA, suggesting previous international transmission and consequent transmission within the UK.

Luke Blagdon Snell, a clinical research fellow at King’s College London, said a patient at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in the capital had first shown symptoms five days ago, and had acquired the infection “locally”.

Symptoms of this variant include a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing and a sore throat.

What is Eris?

Eris, or EG.5.1, was first classified as a variant by the WHO on 9 August. It is now the second most prevalent variant in the UK.

Estimated Covid numbers jumped by almost 200,000 last month, from 606,656 predicted cases on 4 July to 785,980 on 27 July, according to The Zoe Health Study, which estimates figures for UK Covid infections.

According to the UKHSA, Eris was initially raised as a signal in monitoring on 3 July 2023 due to increased reports internationally, particularly in Asia.

According to WHO officials, Eris does not appear to be causing more severe illnesses, although it does appear to be able to evade our immune systems more easily.

The common symptoms of the strain are:

  • Runny nose

  • Headache

  • Fatigue (mild or severe)

  • Sneezing

  • Sore throat