A new highly contagious Omicron variant called ‘Arcturus’ is spreading in New York and causing pink-eye symptoms in kids and some adults.
While it is the middle of allergy season across the states, there are concerns that some allergy-like symptoms are being caused by none other than a new COVID-19 variant.
Public health experts are warning that the sub-variant XBB.1.16 has reportedly been associated with itchy, watery eyes and has a chance to become the dominant strain in local cases.
In the United States, the CDC’s variant tracker shows XBB.1.16 has nearly doubled its proportion in the last week, and is now at 7.2% of all samples sequenced, though may be as high as 11.3%.
This includes New York and New Jersey where that figure is now over 9%. The CDC estimates its prevalence could be as high as 14.9%.
So far, the itchy and pink eye like symptoms, also known as conjunctivitis, have mostly been seen in kids, a symptom not yet seen during the three years of the pandemic.
Right now, New York City transmission is the lowest it has been in many months and hospitalization and death rates have been on a steady decline.
San Diego State University epidemiology professor Eyal Oren said the variant’s array of symptoms, while concerning, do not raise more alarm compared to those of other lineages.
“It’s important to remember that this is one subvariant of about 600 that we’re aware of that have come from Omicron,” he said, “and it doesn’t seem any more lethal or any [more] severe than most of them.”
Still, he added that the variant’s presence may help to remind people that COVID-19 remains an issue.
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