A new variant of Covid-19, XBB.1.16 (dubbed Arcturus), is causing havoc in India, with some states even re-introducing mandatory mask-wearing in public.
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The sub-variant of Omicron has been detected in 22 countries, including the UK, US, Australia, and Singapore, where cases are rising.
The presence of Arcturus was confirmed in Britain by the UK Health Security Agency, however there are less than 100 cases currently.
At a press conference on 31 March 2023, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared XBB.1.16 a 'variant under monitoring'. Maria Van Kerkhove, Covid-19 technical lead for the WHO, saidit’s the most transmissible variant yet.
Conjunctivitis, a rare Covid-19 symptom
Vipin Vashishtha, a paediatrician and former head of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Immunisation, tweeted:
For the last 2 days, have started getting pediatric Covid cases once again after a gap of 6 mo! An infantile phenotype seems emerging—treated infants w/ high fever, cold & cough, & non-purulent, itchy conjunctivitis w/ sticky eyes, not seen in earlier waves.
Raj Rajnarayanan, assistant dean of research and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology, and a leading Covid-19 variant tracker, corroborated Vashishtha's claim, telling Fortune that there’s 'lots of anecdotals of pediatric conjunctivitis in India'.
Richard Reithinger, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the independent, nonprofit institute RTI International, also confirmed hearing such reports to Fortune, however he said it’s 'probably too early to tell' if Covid-19’s set of symptoms has really changed.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis
Reithinger also pointed out that conjunctivitis has been reported as a Covid-19 symptom before, however not often.
In November 2022, researchers at Nebraska Medicine’s Truhlsen Eye Institute reported that they had detected Covid-19 in the eye’s tear film, a thin fluid layer that covers the outer surfaces of the eye. The institute revealed that having the virus in your tear film could cause conjunctivitis.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis include, as per the Truhlsen Eye Institute:
- Tearing, or watery eyes
- Pain or irritation
Independent: 'Arcturus: Latest Covid variant sweeping India appears to have this new symptom'
Fortune: '‘Arcturus,’ a highly transmissible COVID variant eyed by the WHO, appears to have a new symptom. Here’s what you need to know'