The short answer is “No”. Worrying about anything is not good for your health, and the Arcturus COVID variant isn’t any different. Despite being 1.2 times more infectious than the previous coronavirus variants, the Word Health Organization (WHO) found that its severity is not higher compared to previously circulating variants. What’s more, there have been only a few hospitalizations and deaths caused by this new coronavirus mutation.
Around 20% of new COVID-19 infections are attributed to this variant. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, said, “It’s been in circulation for a few months. We haven't seen a severity change in individuals or populations.”
In April, the United States allowed a public health emergency declaration to expire, which means that many people will no longer have access to free tests, vaccines, or medications as a result. Health officials at the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 ‘no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern’ in May 2023.
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Arcturus COVID: What you should know
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) global risk assessment of XBB.1.16 is lower than previous strains, including the earlier variant XBB.1.5, dubbed the Kraken. Arcturus is no more severe than other variants of COVID; however, symptoms are slightly different.
XBB.1.16 and XBB.1.5 are subvariants of omicron mutated from the BA.2 COVID strain. Their increased infectiousness is due to a mutation of the spike protein. Although all of these new COVID-19 variants are more infectious than earlier variants, they’ve also been found to be less severe.
Symptoms of these newer coronavirus strains are said to be mild, and fewer hospitalizations and deaths have been caused by them. However, it is important to continue following all recommended safety measures to prevent the spread of any strain of the coronavirus. This includes wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, washing your hands regularly, and getting vaccinated when possible.
Is there a vaccine for the new COVID variant?
At present, no COVID vaccine or booster has been made specifically for the newly mutated virus. Early studies have found that vaccine-induced antibody responses to the new variants are poorer than other variants. Those with immunity caused by previous COVID infections or COVID vaccines and subsequent infections should have stronger protections against the Arcturus variant.
It’s likely future formulations of COVID-19 vaccines will take into account this and other variants of SARS-CoV-2. The emergence of new subvariants of SARS-CoV-2 can be cause for concern, but it is also an opportunity for scientists to improve the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. By studying these variants and understanding how they differ from the original strain, researchers can develop vaccines that are better equipped to protect against them.
The elderly and people with underlying health conditions are at the most risk. Public health authorities have advised this vulnerable group to be cautious, wear face masks and practice safe distancing when outside. Keeping up to date with COVID-19 boosters has also been advised.
Most people who contract the latest COVID variant experience mild symptoms. There’s unlikely to be any need for hospitalization as the risk of severe illness is rare. Unlike previous variants, the latest strain of COVID-19 causes new symptoms, including itchy conjunctivitis (pink eye) along with a high fever. A scratchy throat, coughs, and a runny nose are also common. All of these symptoms are more often present in children.
Other common symptoms of this strain of COVID include:
- Body aches
Due to the time of year that this strain of COVID was identified, concerns were aired on social media that seasonal hay fever could easily be misdiagnosed as the latest strain of COVID.
How many countries have the new COVID variant?
Latest reports from the WHO state the newest COVID variant has been confirmed in 33 different countries. India accounts for around 61% of global Arcturus infections, with almost 10,000 cases being confirmed daily through April 2023. This spike in COVID-19 cases saw mask mandates reinstated throughout the country for a short period.
In the same month, WHO downgraded their categorization of XBB.1.16 to a “variant of interest” rather than a “variant of concern”. This means they will continue to closely monitor the virus’ progression along with future mutations, but there is no imminent danger of another lockdown or pandemic. Variants are assigned into either category based on several respects, such as their predicted potential for expansion and the probability of causing new waves.
The WHO's variant tracking shows that the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron parent lineage variants are now classified as "previously circulating VOCs”.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Arcturus is responsible for about 1 in 5 new infections in the US. Evidence shows Arcturus may be out-competing other strains of the COVID-19 virus and may take over as the dominant strain in most countries. Experts believe it is unlikely to cause a big wave of cases or trigger a new pandemic.
Should I be worried about the Arcturus COVID variant?
Although reading about new Covid-19 variants on the news or social media can sometimes be scary, there is no need to worry about the Arcturus variant. There have been several omicron strains before this one, all of which have presented with mild symptoms for most people.
It is currently unclear whether the Arcturus variant results in long covid, but it is not more severe than previous strains. To minimize the spread of all COVID variants, it's important to maintain good hygiene habits, like washing your hands frequently and covering coughs and sneezes.