Some children who contract the latest COVID variant are presenting with a new and unusual symptom: pink eye, or conjunctivitis.
According to TODAY, anecdotal reports suggest that the XBB.1.16 Omicron subvariant — already dubbed the Arcturus variant on social media — may be causing pink eye in pediatric patients. Although the United States government will declare an end to the COVID-19 public health emergency in May, some experts are anticipating a surge in cases from this new variant, which is highly contagious.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is currently the second most common strain of COVID in the U.S., tracking right behind XBB.1.5, its predecessor.
Here’s what parents need to know about the Arcturus XBB.1.16 variant, including which symptoms to look out for in children.
Here’s what we know about the XBB.1.16 variant, AKA Arcturus.
The XBB.1.16 variant of COVID-19 was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) this January. It’s circulating in more than 30 countries around the globe and is currently the dominant strain in India.
This Omicron subvariant looks and behaves similarly to XBB.1.5, another variant in the Omicron family. The latter has been the dominant COVID variant in the U.S. “for some time,” Dr. Andy Pekosz, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University, told TODAY.
XBB.1.16 is currently designated as a “variant of interest” by WHO. It appears to contain a mutation that makes it more transmissible than older variants — and better at evading vaccine-induced immunity.
Scientists are still uncertain as to whether XBB.1.16 causes more severe illness in patients.
The new variant is associated with this unusual symptom in children.
Since XBB.1.16 is a subvariant of Omicron, this strain presents with similar symptoms, including a sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, fatigue, and muscle aches.
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told TODAY that XBB.1.16 causing more fevers than previous COVID variants. It is also associated with pink eye, AKA conjunctivitus, in children.
Pink eye can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. Symptoms include redness, swelling, and itchiness in the eyes. The good news? COVID-related pink eye infections clear up quickly, and they don’t appear to have any lasting effects in patients.
Still, as any parent knows, pink eye is super contagious — especially among children. “If you touch the pink eye infection, you can get [it] on your hands and transmit it to someone else,” Schaffner explained.
So, how can parents keep themselves and their families safe from this pink eye-causing variant? COVID vaccines are an excellent first line of defense. The CDC recommends this safe and effective vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.
“The current recommended vaccines are effective at preventing serious disease for all of the Omicron variants,” Schaffner added.
Since COVID primarly spreads via contact with respiratory droplets, you may also consider outfitting your family with effective, well-fitting face masks. And if anyone in your family exhibits symptoms of COVID, be sure to get them tested for the virus.
Leave a Comment