New (Itchy) COVID Symptom Reported as ‘Arcturus' Fuels NY Area Spread

XBB.1.16, also dubbed Arcturus, is increasing quickly in prevalence worldwide, and it's causing at least one symptom not typically seen in other COVID variants and subvariants

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Thought COVID was done with the surprises? Not yet, apparently.

Those itchy, red eyes you have that you assumed were just the start of allergy season? It could very well be something called "Arcturus" instead.

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

For now, the worst of it appears to be in India, where local media reported Friday that daily cases are surging - up almost 50% in just the last couple of days.

But it's growing in the United States as well. The CDC's variant tracker, updated Friday, 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%.

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

cdc variant update local
The CDC updates its variant data on Fridays.

What's notable about Arcturus so far, besides being highly contagious, is the emergence of a possible new symptom. So far, it's mostly been seen in kids.

Indian pediatrician Vipin M. Vashishtha, a member of the World Health Organization's Vaccine Safety Net program, tweeted last week that there is a rise 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 on Thursday also reported that experts are seeing a rise in red, itchy eyes in younger patients with this new strain, a symptom not yet seen during the three years of the pandemic.

The variant does not yet appear on the city health department's tracking reports, though the page hasn't been updated since early this month. A week ago, it wasn't a blip on the CDC's variant tracker for the region, either, nor does New York state's surveillance reflect the incidence rate now reported by the federal infectious disease agency.

Right now, New York City transmission is the lowest it has been in many months, though that trend mirrors a dramatic plunge in the number of people getting tested. Hospitalization and death rates have also been declining steadily.

NYC department of health
NYC Department of Health

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