A new COVID-19 variant, Omicron XBB. 1.16, also called Arcturus, was first discovered in January 2023.
One of the characteristics of Arcturus infection is conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye. It is spreading rapidly in many countries, including the United States, the UK, Australia, Singapore, China, and India.
American virology expert Dr. Lin Xiaoxu discussed on the program “Health 1+1″ that emerging new COVID-19 variants were inevitable. He said although it would be hard to forecast the trend of a virus and pathogenicity, the public should be concerned but does not need to panic.
Origin and Spread of Arcturus
In November 2021, the SARS-CoV-2 variant B. 1.1.529 strain first appeared in South Africa, which the World Health Organization (WHO) later named Omicron. Omicron quickly spread worldwide.
Since then, the Omicron strain continued to mutate, transforming into Omicron BA. 2, BA. 5, BA. 2.75, BQ. 1.1, and XBB strain.
As of April 2023, the XBB.1.5 strain, a descendant of the Omicron XBB strain, has proliferated worldwide, and the new variant XBB. 1.16 (Arcturus) has been widespread in various countries.
Lin stated Arcturus was 36 times more contagious than B.1.1.
In laboratory studies, Arcturus had an additional mutation in the spike protein, which was more contagious.
Global Risks of Arcturus
On May 3, 2023, Lancet Infectious Diseases published a study conducted at the Institute of Medical Sciences at the University of Tokyo in Japan.
The study found that XBB.1.16 demonstrates a greater growth advantage in the human population than XBB.1 and XBB.1.5. However, similar to XBB.1 and XBB.1.5, XBB.1.16 exhibits significant immune evasion capabilities.
Japanese medical researchers also discovered that Arcturus had potent resistance to various new COVID-19 antibodies.
On April 20, the Central Epidemic Command Center of the National Health Command Center, Taiwan, held a news conference on the latest mutation.
Lo Yi-chun, a center spokesperson, said the analysis of global variants revealed that the mainstream virus strain was still the XBB strain, accounting for 77 percent of all COVID-19 variants.
Among these variants, XBB. 1.5 variants accounted for 47.9 percent. Arcturus rose from 1 to 4 percent, with an increasing trend in the United States.
The variant was still under observation as of May 21, 2023.
How to Know If You Have Arcturus
Lin stated symptoms of Arcturus include fever, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, diarrhea, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
In severe cases, hypoxic saturation and respiratory distress syndrome were found.
Fever, cough, and conjunctivitis were also observed in children with Arcturus.
Vipin Vashishtha, a pediatric director and consultant at Mangel Hospital and Research Centre and a former official of the Advisory Committee on Vaccine and Immunization Practices at the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, wrote on Twitter on April 2023 about presentations in pediatric cases.
In children, cases of itchy conjunctivitis or sticky discharge in the eyes were on the rise and included symptoms of high fever, cough, and flu.
Some of these symptoms were not seen during the pandemic.
Children Vulnerable to New Mutation
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), conjunctivitis (pink eye) is a suspected symptom of the Arcturus subvariant, especially in children.
If your child’s eyes are itchy and red, AAO advises parents not to panic, as this is a common eye condition at any age and can also be allergy-related.
However, parents should perform nucleic acid testing on their children to be sure.
How Arcturus Impacts Public Health
A study published in Nature Communications in December 2022 revealed the adverse impact of the COVID-19 virus on the eyes.
Researchers observed infected mice with COVID-19 and found that the mice’s retinal thickness increased significantly by 1.62 times.
In the study, SARS-CoV-2 could spread to the brain and eyes through the trigeminal and optic nerves, resulting in retinal inflammation, pro-inflammatory cytokine production, and reduction in depth perception.
Available Vaccines Versus Variants
Lin reminded viewers that people with long COVID should remain vigilant of the new contagious variant.
Arcturus has a potent resistance to poly antibodies, and these antibodies will be less effective against Arcturus.
Current observation suggests monoclonal antibodies have lost their comprehensive effect on XBB. 1.5 and Arcturus. Hence, it is evident that the development of the new virus has outpaced the progress of current vaccines.
“People who were previously Omicron-infected may have other antibodies that may work against the current variant,” Lin said.
Dr. Lin highlighted that Arcturus, along with XBB.1.5, has shown significant resistance to multiple antibodies. Given the current circumstances, monoclonal antibodies are no longer effective against these variants and have struggled to keep pace with the virus’s evolution.
Furthermore, Dr. Lin mentioned that individuals previously infected with the Omicron variant during its initial stages may possess other antibodies that could still be effective against the current variant.
In light of these findings, Dr. Lin advised individuals with long Covid to exercise caution and take extra measures to protect their health.
How to Prevent Arcturus
Lin recommends ivermectin to prevent Arcturus. He said ivermectin helps reduce the chances of infection, providing more ideal treatment results and benefiting those with mental symptoms. Indian data show ivermectin reduces infection rates among health care workers.
Lin specified ivermectin was not promoted initially due to commercial interests. However, not only is ivermectin affordable, but it is also becoming more recognized in preventing and treating COVID-19.
Satoshi Omura, an honorary professor at Kitasato University, Japan, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for inventing ivermectin.
Lin suggested ivermectin, if available for purchase, would increase immunity tolerance against the virus during the pandemic.