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We’ve removed our masks. We’re getting out into the light of day and enjoying being with family and friends again. With caution, we’ve slowly let our sense of normalcy return as the threat of coronavirus finally waned to where, for many, it’s akin to influenza which we take measures to avoid. And as with “the flu,” the COVID-19 virus can still be a serious health threat. According to health officials, COVID-19 is still a leading cause of death around the world, including in the United States where it’s tied to about 250 deaths daily.
As we continue to transition from pandemic to endemic, it’s clear that COVID-19 is still out there, taking the form of different variants and causing illness which is sometimes serious. There’s another COVID-19 variant making its rounds globally, named XBB.1.16 or Arcturus, which the World Health Organization is currently classifying as “variant under monitoring,” which is less serious than “variant of interest” or “variant of concern.” However, the classifications are fluid and can change at any time.
What is Different About Arcturus?
The Arcturus variant has a higher transmissibility rate than previous strains, but what stands out is that it brings with it an all-new COVID-19 symptom: conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, which is often combined with itchiness.
Arcturus is responsible for a surge in COVID case counts in some parts of the world, including India, where itchy or "sticky" eyes have been most frequently reported in children, along with typical flu-like symptoms of a cough, cold and fever.
XBB.1.16 has been detected in 22 countries, including the United States.
How Prevalent is Arcturus in the United States?
While there are Arcturus cases in the United States, so far there are not many, but we may see surges in the coming weeks according to scientists. Out of the 10 health care regions defined by the CDC, Arcturus appears to be the most prevalent in Region 6, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. In that region, it made up 21% of all COVID cases during the week of April 9.
Is the Arcturus Variant Dangerous?
While higher levels of infection are being seen with newer variants, generally, they tend to be causing less severe illness. This is likely the result of higher vaccination rates, higher rates of immunity from previous infection and a weakening in the potential to produce disease in recent variants.
Doctors still encourage us to not let our guards down and to continue practicing COVID-19 prevention measures, including washing your hands frequently, avoiding close contact with people who are sick and staying home if you feel sick or have any COVID symptoms.
Your Wellness is Our Priority
There are plenty of simple guidelines you can still follow to keep you and your family healthy as COVID-19 variants continue to circulate:
Continue paying attention to guidance on vaccines and booster shots
- Practice healthy habits like handwashing
- Take advantage of rapid testing to help prevent spreading illness
- You can still take extra precautions such as wearing a mask in crowded places when case counts are high or on the rise.
The best way to navigate COVID-19 as it sticks around for the long term is to stay informed, and we’re here to help. Get ongoing news and support about the virus at our Coronavirus Resource Hub. We want you to stay well.