The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) has refuted claims of the presence of the new subvariants of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, specifically EG.5r and BA.2.86, within Nigeria. In an official press statement, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, Director General of the NCDC, clarified that these subvariants have not been identified in the country.
Addressing the matter, Dr. Adetifa stated that the EG.5 variant, which is a descendant of XBB.1.9.2 (itself a derivative of Omicron), has been reported in 51 countries, including the United States, China, Australia, and several European countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified EG.5 as a “variant of interest” (VOI), assessing it as posing a low global risk. Moreover, the variant has not exhibited changes in symptoms, severity, or clinical manifestation, nor has it led to increased hospitalizations or differences in death rates in reporting countries.
Symptoms associated with EG.5 are consistent with those of other COVID-19 variants, encompassing fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, and sore throat. It’s important to note that only a single case of EG.5 has been identified in Africa, and none have been reported in Nigeria.
Furthermore, Dr. Adetifa clarified the BA.2.86 variant, which is a descendant lineage of BA.2, a sublineage of Omicron identified in Nigeria in 2022. As of August 23, 2023, BA.2.86 has been reported in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Israel, Denmark, South Africa, and the United States. WHO categorizes BA.2.86 as a “variant under monitoring” (VUM) due to its multiple genetic distinctions from its ancestor, BA.2, and other circulating XBB-derived SARS-CoV-2 variants. However, insufficient cases have been identified to conclusively assess factors such as virulence, transmission, and severity. While the ancestor BA.2 has been detected in Nigeria, BA.2.86 has not been identified in the country.
Dr. Adetifa emphasized that the NCDC’s COVID-19 Technical Working Group (COVID-19 TWG) is closely monitoring the epidemiology of COVID-19, including emerging variants, at local, regional, continental, and global levels. The organization continues its influenza sentinel surveillance, providing insights into COVID-19 prevalence among patients with influenza-like and severe acute respiratory illnesses. Notably, there has been no observed increase in COVID-19 trends within this patient group.
The statement also indicated that Nigeria, in collaboration with partners, is enhancing COVID-19 testing in four states to gather comprehensive data on circulating variants. The NCDC is also distributing rapid diagnostic kits to improve testing capabilities.
Dr. Adetifa urged Nigerians, including media practitioners, to exercise responsibility and share only verified information. He reiterated preventive measures such as testing for febrile and respiratory symptoms, vaccination against COVID-19, hand hygiene, mask usage for those with symptoms, and continued vigilance.
As the global situation evolves, Dr. Adetifa assured that the NCDC remains vigilant, keeping Nigerians informed with evidence-based information on any developments that could impact public health.