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A new COVID-19 variant is spreading in Quebec—here is the latest guidance

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The latest variant of COVID-19 is making a growing appearance in Quebec.

EG.5, also nicknamed ‘Eris,’ now represents the highest percentage of reported cases, according to Quebec’s public health institute (INSPQ).

The variant has been climbing steadily, representing 18 per cent of cases in Quebec, according to numbers from mid-July.

EG.5 is an offshoot of the XBB strain, part of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. It has spread across Canada and other parts of the world.

The WHO has declared it a variant of interest because some countries report it is more contagious than others. There is not yet enough data to determine if it causes severe respiratory tract disease.

MUHC infectious disease specialist Dr. Donald Vinh said the variant does respond to vaccines, but stressed the importance of having three shots, including one dose of the bivalent vaccine.

“The latest MNRA-based vaccines that we’ve used are bivalent, which means that they include the original strain with something in the BA family—so BA1 or BA5 depending on which vaccine you got,” he said.

“We think that seems to be OK because of some overlap between the BA and XBB sub-families, but of course, the match is not perfect, and of course, with the time from your last vaccine dose, that immunity wanes.”

VACCINE GUIDANCE

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that Canadians get a booster this fall if it has been at least six months since their last dose or COVID-19 infection.

The upcoming vaccine campaign for Canadians will have the formulation of the XBB subfamily, which includes EG.5.

“A lot of people who have not been infected in the past year and have not had their booster, many who haven’t had it for almost two years now, they’re going to be susceptible to getting sick,” said Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto.

“Even if they don’t get seriously ill, they may get Long COVID, and that is a risk that needs to be taken seriously,” he continued.

Quebec is currently preparing for its fall vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and the seasonal flu.

You can make a vaccine appointment by calling 1-877-644‑4545, online through Sante Montreal or by visiting one of the eight walk-in vaccine sites across the city.

WHERE TO FIND RAPID TESTS

If you need a COVID-19 rapid test, visiting a vaccination centre is your best bet. The tests are free at all eight sites in Montreal. Hours at each centre vary.

Pharmacies in Quebec stopped freely distributing rapid tests in May.

Only those considered vulnerable to complications -- immunosuppressed adults, people over 60, pregnant people and adults living with chronic illness -- and those benefiting from free medication under the public drug insurance plan can access the tests in pharmacies.

Rapid tests are still provided at schools and early childhood centres.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS

It’s been two weeks since Quebec removed its lingering COVID-19 measures.

The update mainly affected healthcare workers and their patients, with remaining mask requirements now gone, including in cases involving a confirmed COVID-19 infection.

Guidance for self-isolating following infection was dropped in Quebec in November.

Since then, the province has adopted a “common sense” approach for people to follow if they have symptoms: If you have a fever, stay home. Wear a mask if you have a cough, sore throat or congestion.

For ten days after the onset of symptoms, you’re urged to keep a safe distance from others and work remotely if possible. 

-With files from The Canadian Press

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