A new variant of COVID-19 beginning to spread in the United States could be responsible for a new symptom unlike any we’ve seen with the virus so far.
This variant, classified XBB.1.16 by the World Health Organization, was designated as a “variant under surveillance” by the organization last month.
Otherwise known as “Arcturus”, the omicron subvariant has been reported in more than two dozen countries and has caused an increase in cases in India, among other countries. In the United States, it is responsible for about 9.6% of current cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Indian officials have said the virus has caused fairly typical symptoms that mirror the common cold, but there’s potentially a new one: conjunctivitis, which can cause red, itchy or pink eyes.
This symptom has been more prevalent in children and young adults, but it has also affected adults, officials say.
While some may be tempted to dismiss this symptom due to seasonal allergies, Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, says it’s prudent to at least take a COVID test to rule out the disease.
“If you have itchy red eyes and you think it’s allergies or just a cold, just get a COVID test to be sure,” she said. “Overall, it’s still omicron, which is good news if you’re up to date with your COVID vaccines.”
There is so far no evidence that the variant leads to more severe illness or increased hospitalizations, which Arwady says shows the importance of being vaccinated.
“It’s always at the lowest level where we keep an eye on it, so it’s good that people are aware,” Arwady said. “If you’ve had your most recent vaccinations and are up to date, you have the right protection, including against this subvariant.”
According to the Mayo Clinic.
Overall COVID levels in the United States, including the Chicago area, remain low, but experts are still advising residents to take proper precautions, including getting COVID tests if they have symptoms and washing up hands frequently.