NEW YORK – Thought COVID was over with surprises? Not yet, apparently.

Those red, itchy eyes you assumed were just the start of allergy season? It might as well be something called “Arcturus” instead.

XBB.1.16, a subvariant of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus that has acquired this unusual stellar tag, appears to be spreading rapidly in some parts of the world.

So far, the worst appears to be in India, where local media reported on Friday that daily cases were rising, by nearly 50% in recent days.

But it is also growing in the United States. The CDC’s Variant Tracker, updated on Friday, shows XBB.1.16 has nearly doubled in proportion over the past week and now accounts for 7.2% of all samples sequenced, though it could be as high as 11.3. %.

In HHS Region 2, which includes New York and New Jersey, that number is now over 9%. The CDC estimates that its prevalence could be as high as 14.9%.


The CDC updates its variant data on Fridays.

What’s remarkable about Arcturus so far, besides being highly contagious, is the appearance of a possible new symptom. So far, it has been observed mainly in children.

Indian pediatrician Vipin M. Vashishtha, a member of the World Health Organization’s Vaccine Safety Net program, tweeted last week that there is an increase in cases of “itchy conjunctivitis with sticky eyes” that may be associated with the subvariant.

The director of the Mayo Clinic’s Clinical Virology Laboratory also reported Thursday that experts are seeing an increase in red, itchy eyes in younger patients with this new strain, a symptom not yet seen in three years of the pandemic.

The variant does not yet appear in surveillance reports from the city’s health department, although the page has not been updated since the start of the month. A week ago, this was also not an issue on the CDC’s variant tracking for the region, nor does the New York State surveillance reflect the incidence rate now reported by the federal agency for infectious diseases.

Currently, transmission in New York is the lowest in many months, although this trend reflects a dramatic drop in the number of people tested. Hospitalization and death rates have also steadily declined.

NYC Department of Health

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