Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

The New COVID Variant — A Striking Symptom You Should Know About

XBB.1.16 (ARCTURUS) IS ON THE RISE WORLDWIDE. The new variant is highly contagious. Today we look at the new COVID variant and one striking symptom you should know about. First, a quick look at Shakespeare’s take on pandemics.

While he lived over four centuries ago, Shakespeare’s words still ring true, even regarding today’s global coronavirus pandemic. At his birth in 1564, the playwright’s hometown of Stratford upon Avon was visited by the plague, carried by fleas living on rats’ fur.

Moreover, Shakespeare witnessed numerous waves of the plague, with the disease taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of Europeans in his lifetime. With each plague outbreak in England, rulers banned mass gatherings, including London theater performances.

From 1603 to 1613, when Shakespeare’s powers as a writer peaked, the Globe and other London theatres were closed for a remarkable 78 months or over 60 percent of the time.

“Pursue him to his house, and pluck him thence:
Lest his infection, being of catching nature,
Spread further.”

Coriolanus Act 3, Scene 1

What is the New COVID Variant Arcturus (XBB.1.16)?

Arcturus, also known as XBB.1.16, is a subvariant of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. It was first identified in India in January 2023 and has since been detected in over 30 countries.

Arcturus is thought to be more transmissible than previous variants of Omicron, but there is no evidence that it is more severe.

Many of the symptoms of Arcturus are similar to those of other variants of COVID-19. They may include fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, and loss of taste or smell.

Some people may experience gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

But there is one atypical symptom associated with the Arcturus: Itchy eyes. Dr. Matthew Binnicker, director of the Clinical Virology Laboratory at Mayo Clinic (USA), offers:

“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. This is not something that we’ve seen with prior strains of the virus.”

Is Arcturus Especially Dangerous?

While COVID-19 rates in the U.S. are relatively low and are declining, the World Health Organization (WHO) is keeping an eye on a new COVID-19 variant.

The WHO has listed the omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, known as “Arcturus,” as a variant under monitoring since March 22. Experts say this variant has a higher transmissibility rate than previous strains but doesn’t appear more dangerous.

“He shall not breathe infection in this air” — Henry VI Part 2, Act 3, Scene 2

The New COVID Variant (Arcturus) management

There is no specific treatment for Arcturus, but the same treatments that are effective against other variants of COVID-19 may also be effective against Arcturus. These treatments include:

  • Vaccination. The COVID-19 vaccines prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death from Arcturus.
  • Paxlovid. Paxlovid is an antiviral medication that is effective against Arcturus. It is recommended for people at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
  • Monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are a type of antibody that can be given to people who are at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19. They are not as effective as Paxlovid, but they may be an option for people who cannot take Paxlovid.

“The miserable have no other medicine, but only Hope.” — Measure for Measure, Act 3, Scene 1

The best way to protect yourself from Arcturus is to get vaccinated and boosted. You should also wear a mask in public indoor settings, practice social distancing, and wash your hands frequently.

Although COVID-19 rates in the U.S. are relatively low, health experts recommend people remain continue to use risk-reducing tactics, including the following:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home if you feel sick or have any symptoms of COVID-19.

I hope you learned something about the COVID variant with the epic name.


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Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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