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New COVID-19 Strain ‘Arcturus’: What to Know

By Meagan Drillinger on April 18, 2023

  • A new strain of SARS-CoV-2 has experts concerned
  • The XBB.1.16 strain dubbed “Arcturus” was discovered in India and has spread to 29 other countries.
  • This strain appears to lead to higher fevers than other omicron-related strains.

A new COVID-19 sub-variant has been catching the attention of the World Health Organization. This omicron variant, XBB.1.16, otherwise known as “Arcturus”Trusted Source causes patients to exhibit many of the familiar symptoms of previous variants of COVID-19, as well as the addition of a new symptom: conjunctivitis.

The new, highly contagious variant was first discovered in India and is now present in 29 other countries. Experts say that it is a variant that is currently of interest, but is not, at the moment, cause for concern. Here is what we know about the latest variant of COVID-19.

How is the Arcturus variant different from other COVID-19 strains?

“It has been reported that it is similar in profile to previous omicron sub-variants, however an additional mutation in the spike protein could Ieave it potential for increased infectivity and pathogenicity,” said Hannah Newman, MPH, director of infection prevention at Lenox Hill Hospital.

Newman pointed out that the strain is considered a “Variant Under Monitoring” by the World Health Organization.

“Arcturus is an omicron sub-variant, so it’s related to omicron,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine, health policy, and professor, Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University. “Number two, it has one additional mutation in that spike protein that makes it even more contagious than omicron.”

Schaffner explained that this new variant produces the same disease as previous variants and does not seem to be ultra severe, but there are some clinical characteristics that make it different.

“First, it has a tendency to produce a high fever. Omicron can produce a fever, but many people get infected who don’t have a fever at all.”

The cause for the fever in the Arcturus variant is because of an inflammatory response in the body, which is distinctive in this variant.

“The other thing that is even more distinctive is that, particularly in children, it has the tendency to produce conjunctivitis, which is the inflammation of the outside of the eye,” said Schaffner.

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