EXPLAINED: What is Arcturus? Is Conjunctivitis a Symptom of XBB.1.16 Variant?

COVID-19 Explainer

A new coronavirus subvariant, XBB.1.16, known as Arcturus, has raised concerns among global health authorities. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified this variant as a “variant under monitoring,” indicating its potential to spread and cause infections. 

Arcturus has gained traction in India causing a surge in cases and prompting the reinstatement of mask mandates in certain states. 

According to the data put out by Union Health Ministry on Wednesday, over 10,542 new infections were reported in the last 24 hours alone. It highlights a concerning increase in the total number of active cases in the country, which now stands at 63,562. 


This article provides an overview of the latest developments surrounding the Arcturus variant and its implications for public health measures.

What is Arcturus?

Arcturus or XBB.1.16 is an Omicron subvariant. This subvariant, first detected in January, has quickly spread and has now been reported in 29 countries, including the United States and India.

According to WHO, XBB.1.16 has replaced other variants that were previously in circulation in India, raising concerns about the potential implications of this variant on the spread and severity of COVID-19 cases.

The WHO designated Arcturus as a “variant under monitoring” on 22 March.


Is Arcturus more transmissible?

Last month, the WHO noted that Arcturus or XBB.1.16 has a notable mutation in the virus’s spike protein. The spike protein is a crucial part of the virus that allows it to enter human cells and cause infection. 

Due to this mutation, Arcturus has increased transmissibility, meaning that the virus may spread more easily from person to person.

Although the variant has led to a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, there has not been a significant increase in hospitalizations.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist and a professor of medicine at the University of California, said that new variants won’t necessarily become more dangerous.

“Most of the population has immunity from either the vaccines, infection, or both, and that will continue to protect most individuals against the worst outcomes of the disease,” she told Yahoo News.

What are the symptoms of Arcturus?

The Arcturus variant may present a unique symptom not observed in previous strains of the coronavirus. 

According to some medical doctors, this new variant appears to be causing conjunctivitis, commonly referred to as pink eye, particularly in children under 12, which sets it apart from previous variants.

Speaking to Indian Express, Dr. Namrata Jasani, Senior Consultant, Pulmonology, Global Hospitals, said children infected with this strain may experience symptoms such as high-grade fever, cough, redness, itching, and watering from the eyes, which can be similar to other viruses like adenovirus, which is commonly prevalent during the summer season in India.

Vipin M. Vashishtha, a member of the WHO’s Vaccine Safety Net program, also tweeted earlier in the month that more children infected with Arcturus are experiencing “itchy conjunctivitis with sticky eyes.”


Are COVID-19 vaccines effective against Arcturus?

WHO recently confirmed that booster doses of vaccines are effective against the new strain.

The Hindu reported that the Technical Advisory Group on COVID-19 Vaccine Composition (TAG-CO-VAC) has said that “booster doses of index virus-based vaccines continue to confer high levels of protection against severe disease and death caused by all SARS-CoV-2 variants, including contemporary Omicron descendent lineages.”

Dr. Gandhi said vaccination and natural infection can activate crucial components of the immune system, such as B cells and T cells which can also offer long-lasting protection against the virus. 

B cells are responsible for producing antibodies that can neutralize the virus and prevent its entry into cells, while T cells are responsible for identifying and eliminating infected cells. Together, these immune responses contribute to a multi-layered defense against the virus, offering durable protection even against emerging variants. 

In conclusion, the emergence of the Arcturus variant has alarmed the bell due to its potential for increased spread and infections. This Omicron subvariant has rapidly spread to multiple countries, including India, where it has caused a surge in cases. As the situation with Arcturus continues to evolve, monitoring and adherence to public health measures remain crucial in mitigating its impact on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.


Title:EXPLAINED: What is Arcturus? Is Conjunctivitis a Symptom of XBB.1.16 Variant?

By: Fact Crescendo Team 

Result: Explainer

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