April 11, 2023 – A new COVID-19 variant that recently landed on the World Health Organization’s radar may cause previously unseen symptoms in children, according to a new report.
While the variant, called “Arcturus,” hasn’t yet made the CDC's watchlist, a prominent pediatrician in India is seeing children with “itchy” or “sticky” eyes, as if they have conjunctivitis or pinkeye, according to The Times of India.
The new itchy eye symptom is in addition to kids having a high fever and cough, Vipin Vashishtha, MD, said on Twitter, noting that pediatric COVID cases have picked up there for the first time in 6 months.
The country has also seen a rise in another virus among children with similar symptoms, called adenovirus. COVID and adenovirus cannot be distinguished without testing, and many parents don’t want to have their children tested because the swabs are uncomfortable, The Times of India reported. One doctor told the newspaper that among every 10 kids with COVID-like symptoms, two or three of them had tested positive on a COVID test taken at home.
Health officials in India are doing mock drills this week to check how prepared the country’s hospitals are as India sees cases rise, the BBC reported. India struggled during a COVID-19 surge in 2021, at which time sickened people were seen lying on sidewalks outside overflowing hospitals, and reports surfaced of a black market for private citizens to buy oxygen.
Arcturus (formally, Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16) made news 2 weeks ago as it landed on the WHO’s radar after surfacing in India. A WHO official called it “one to watch.” The Times of India reported that 234 new cases of XBB.1.16 were included in the country’s latest 5,676 new infections, meaning the subvariant accounts for 4% of new COVID cases.