Arcturus, a subvariant of Omicron first identified in India, has been included in the CDC’s monitoring list following its involvement in 7% of the COVID infections in the United States. A strain that has also been reported as causing red and itchy eyes in young patients.

Updated: 19-Apr-2023.

T he U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has added a new COVID-19 strain called “Arcturus” to its watch list.

Arcturus, officially labelled XBB.1.16, is a subvariant of Omicron. It was first seen in India and has been on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) watchlist since the end of March. The CDC’s latest update shows that this new strain causes 7% of U.S. coronavirus cases, putting it in second place behind its longstanding cousin XBB.1.5 (Omicron), which causes 78% of cases.

Although Arcturus is more transmissible, experts believe it is no more dangerous than recent chart-topping strains. “It is causing increasing case counts in certain parts of the world, including India. We’re not seeing high rates of XBB.1.16 yet in the United States, but it may become more prominent in coming weeks,” said Mayo Clinic viral disease expert Matthew Binnicker.

Arcturus has also been causing a new symptom in children, according to reports by Indian medical providers. “One new feature of cases caused by this variant is that it seems to be causing conjunctivitis, or red and itchy eyes, in young patients,” said Binnicker. “This is not something that we’ve seen with prior strains of the virus.”

CDC data shows that more than 11,000 people in the U.S. remained hospitalized with COVID-19, while 1,327 died of the virus last week. Meanwhile, the WHO says that to date, 6.9 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19, with over 1.1 million deaths occurring in the U.S.

The appearance of Arcturus has raised concerns among public health officials, given that the situation worldwide regarding the pandemic is already challenging. As transmission rates in many parts of the world continue to surge due to the spread of new variants, the potential for surges in US COVID-19 case numbers also remains a possibility.

Estimates suggest that the vaccination rate in India is not high enough to slow the spread of Arcturus, with only about 34% of the population having received at least one dose of a vaccine. The situation remains alarming, particularly as India has recorded a new high of over 10,000 daily cases.

PMP Magazine

Erratum: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the number of new daily cases of COVID-19 in India was reaching over 500,000 cases. This has been corrected with the actual number of daily cases which is over 10,000 cases.


PMP News reporting.


Text: This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 18 April 2023.
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