New Covid strain XBB.1.18, nicknamed arcturus, is quickly spreading across the U.S., but experts are warning that pink eye and high fever, two symptoms of the new variant, are particularly present among children.
Arcturus is a subvariant of the highly contagious omicron variant, which is the most prevalent variant in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has seen an uptick in this variant among travelers—the week of March 6, it made up 1.1% of cases among travelers, and by the week of April 3, it made up 19.8%.
As of the week of April 22, the CDC reports arcturus makes up 9.6% of all U.S. cases, the second most prevalent subvariant behind XBB.1.5., which makes up 73.6% of cases.
The World Health Organization is tracking arcturus and labeled it a “variant of interest” alongside XBB.1.5. on April 17, a step below a variant of concern—WHO previously labeled it a “variant under monitoring” in January.
WHO also reports the subvariant has been detected in 33 countries, including the U.S., Australia, Singapore, Libya, Iran, Kuwait and Qatar, but it’s the most prevalent in India.
94,142. This is the weekly average of Covid cases in the U.S. as of April 19, the CDC reports. However, this is a sharp decline from the weekly average of 296,279 this time last year, when BA.2, another omicron subvariant, was the dominant strain.
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WHO’s Covid technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, said during a press conference in March arcturus replaced the other variants in circulation in India, so it’s “one to watch.” The University of Minnesota reports the subvariant is fueling India’s biggest Covid surge in seven months. The Indian government reports a total of 61,000 Covid cases as of Wednesday, a significant uptick compared to the 13,509 cases reported on March 30.
Arcturus is a descendant of the recombinant variant XBB, which stems from two separate BA.2 sublineages, according to WHO’s risk assessment. It is one of 600 omicron subvariants circulating the world. Though it has yet pinpointed its exact origins, WHO’s risk assessment reports the subvariant was first detected in January. Van Kerkhove also said in the press conference what sets this subvariant apart is a mutation in the spike protein, which “shows increased infectivity, as well as potential increased pathogenicity.”
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, pink eye (medically known as conjunctivitis) is suspected to be a symptom of the arcturus subvariant, particularly among children. If children have itchy, red eyes the AAO advises parents shouldn’t be alarmed, as it’s a common eye condition at any age and associated with allergy. However, Covid testing should be done to rule the virus out. Brad Hutton, a public health consultant at Hutton Health Consulting, told Medical News Today arcturus seems to have “a competitive advantage to the current predominant variant in the globe, XBB.1.5.,” but it probably won’t be a “major cause for concern” since it doesn’t seem to cause more severe illness than XBB.1.5. Fevers have always been Covid symptom, but the fevers related to arcturus are higher-grade, Matthew Binnicker, the director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic, told the Huffington Post. According to Stamford health, a high-grade fever in adults is 103 degrees fahrenheit or higher for infants up to three months, 100.4 degrees fahrenheit or higher is considered high-grade, in children three months to three years, 102 degrees fahrenheit is high-grade and 103 degrees fahrenheit in older kids. If a patient develops a fever alongside pink eye, it’s a way to differentiate the infection from allergies because “allergies aren’t associated typically with a fever,” Binnicker said.