The LA Department of Public Health has issued a warning that the new strain of COVID-19, named Arcturus, may lead to the development of pink eye or conjunctivitis

The Los Angeles Department of Public Health (LACDPH) has confirmed three new cases of the new COVID-19 subvariant, named Arcturus, and warned that it may cause pink eye. Observational data suggests that people infected with the rapidly spreading Omicron strain XBB.1.16 have exhibited symptoms of conjunctivitis. However, the LACDPH has stated that it is still too early to determine whether XBB.1.16 is directly linked to a higher incidence of conjunctivitis, especially considering the ongoing allergy season in Southern California.

“Residents should be aware that itchy, watery or red eyes may be a sign of a COVID-19 infection and these symptoms should not be simply dismissed as a result of pollen or seasonal allergies,” continues the statement. “Especially if someone more vulnerable to severe illness could be exposed.”

The LACDPH said that since the new strain is a version of the Omicron variant — one of more than 600 — current vaccines “are highly likely to remain protective and able to ward off severe illness.”

“The fact that we are seeing new strains, with possibly new and different symptoms, tells us that COVID continues to evolve and the way we think about our protections should reflect what we know,” added the report.

The World Health Organization is monitoring Arcturus, a COVID-19 subvariant discovered in India in January, as a “variant of interest.” It has been found to be 1.2 times more infectious than the previous Kraken variant, which was mostly detected in the UK at the end of February.

As a response, the health ministry of India has been conducting mock drills to assess the preparedness of hospitals in handling a surge of COVID patients. Additionally, they have reintroduced mandates for wearing masks in public places.

“It’s been in circulation for a few months. We haven’t seen a change in severity in individuals or in populations, but that’s why we have these systems in place,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said during a press conference.

“Systems to track the virus variants, global collaborations to assess transmissibility, immune escape, severity and the impact of any of our interventions including diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.”

The WHO also expressed its fear that Arcturus would become the dominant strain in the US in the near future.

“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 announced in a new report. “However, at present, there is no early signal of an increase in severity.”

According to a tracker established by Rajendram Rajnarayanan, MSc, Ph.D., from the New York Institute of Technology, the Arcturus variant has emerged in several states, including California, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Texas.

The CDC has estimated that the new strain has caused a 9.6% increase in new infections this week, up from almost 6% last week and around 3% the previous week.

Scientists have warned that the variant’s ongoing mutations could make it challenging for the immune system to combat.