A new COVID-19 sub-variant, known as XBB.1.16 or “Arcturus,” has emerged in the United States presenting a symptom not recognized in other variants, with India experiencing a surge of cases.
XBB.1.16 was first identified in January as a variant of Omicron and has caused India’s COVID-19 cases to increase.
As of April 19, there are 63,592 active caseloads in India and 10,542 new cases reported in 24 hours.
The Serum Institute of India will start manufacturing the Covishield vaccine again amid increasing cases after stopping manufacturing in December 2021.
According to the World Health Organization, the variant has been identified in 29 countries. A laboratory study by the WHO showed XBB.1.16 to have an increased growth rate compared to XBB and XBB.1.5.
William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, explained how the new variant differs from other variants, in an article by Prevention.
“It seems to be producing more conjunctivitis, and inflammation of the insides of the eyelids, which can be very itchy and make the eye look red,” said Schaffner.
The conjunctivitis symptoms seem to be mainly affecting children, but the typical COVID-19 symptoms may appear as well such as fever, cough, muscle ache and sore throat.
With allergy season being most common in the spring, some may confuse allergy symptoms with symptoms of the new variant.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, Ph.D., Technical Lead on COVID-19, spoke about the XBB.1.16 variant at a press conference on March 29.
“It has one additional mutational mutation in the spike protein which in lab studies shows increase infectivity, as well as potential increased pathogenicity,” Kerkhove said. “So, it’s one that we are monitoring and we’re monitoring it because it has potential changes that we need to keep a good eye out on.”
According to the CDC, the XBB.1.16 variant made up 7.2% of COVID-19 samples from April 9 to April 15, which is an increase from weeks prior.
The CDC seems to be covering up the emergence of the variant, according to the World Socialist Web Site. When a variant reaches the 1% threshold, it needs to be reported as a new variant of interest.
By April 1, 2023, the proportion of the variant was already 2.1%, but a report by WSWS published on April 3, 2023 said that they found no mention of it by the CDC.
Katelyn Jetelina, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and data scientist, told WebMD that, “COVID-19 is still going to be here, it’s still going to mutate.”
“I’m most concerned about our ability to track the virus. It’s not clear what surveillance we still have in the states and around the globe,” said Jetelina.