Children Diagnosed With New Omicron Variant XBB.1.16 (Arcturus) Show Red and Itchy Eye Symptom, Health Professionals Warn

Medical professionals report that children diagnosed with the new Omicron subvariant of COVID-19, XBB.1.16, display conjunctivitis symptoms.

According to the Sun Sentinel, multiple health experts have reported children coming in with “itchy conjunctivitis with sticky eyes, not seen in earlier waves.”

omicron arcturus

In an April 6 Twitter post, Vipin M Vashishtha, former convenor of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics and consultant pediatrician at the Mangla Hospital and Research Center in Bijnor, India, stated that he had seen a rise in children coming in to be treated for COVID-19 infections displaying conjunctivitis and “sticky eyes.”

“For the last 2 days, have [sic] started getting pediatric Covid cases once again after a gap of 6 mo! [sic],” he wrote. “An infantile phenotype seems emerging,” he wrote, adding that children coming in to be treated displayed high fevers, colds, and coughs and “non-purulent, itchy conjunctivitis w/sticky eyes [sic], not seen in earlier waves.”

Elsewhere, Dr. Srikanth R, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Apollo Spectra Hospital in Chennai, India, told Health Shots, “Of late, a lot of children have been developing conjunctivitis post COVID-19 infection.

“This is due to the latest Omicron sub-variant XBB 1.16. The general trend seen is in treated infants with high fever, cold, and cough,” he said.

Conjunctivitis Explained

Conjunctivitis is a common eye infection that creates inflammation of the thin layer of tissues that line the eyelid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It is typically caused by various viruses, bacteria, or allergens, and inflammation usually starts in one eye before spreading to the other within a few days.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis typically include pink or red coloring in the whites of the eyes, increased eye watering, itching, irritation or burning, and discharge, among others.

However, the health agency notes that a common cold, flu, or other respiratory infection may also cause such symptoms. According to the Sun Sentinel, health officials also pointed out that the United States has now entered allergy season with the arrival of spring, which could also trigger conjunctivitis.

Treatment for conjunctivitis includes cold compressions, eye drops, and in some cases, antibiotics. However, according to the CDC, most infections usually clear up within 7 to 14 days without treatment or long-term effects.

Severe Illness Not Linked to New Variant

The latest reports regarding XBB.1.16—dubbed “Arcturus”—and cases of conjunctivitis in children come after the World Health Organization (WHO) upgraded the variant to a “variant of interest,” citing its ability to evade immune system response.

In its latest weekly epidemiological update, the WHO said XBB.1.16 had been reported in 31 countries. During the week ending April 2, it accounted for 4.2 percent of SARS-CoV-2 sequences uploaded to the international GISAID database—marking a 0.5 percent increase from the week ending March 5.

According to the CDC, in the week ending April 22, XBB.1.16—a descendent lineage of XBB, a recombinant of two BA.2 descendent lineages—accounted for 9.6 percent of cases in the United States.

“Due to its estimated growth advantage and immune escape characteristics, XBB.1.16 may spread globally and contribute to an increase in case incidence,” WHO officials wrote of the variant first detected in India in January.

Despite this, WHO officials noted that XBB.1.16 does not seem to be causing more severe illness in individuals diagnosed with the virus.

“However, at present, there is no early signal of an increase in severity. The initial XBB.1.16 risk assessment is ongoing and is expected to be published in the coming days,” WHO officials said in their report.

According to CDC data, XBB.1.16 has been detected in at least 18 states, including California, Delaware, Florida, and Georgia.

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