XBB 1.16 is the latest version of the Omicron variant. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is the dominant strain in India and has been found in over 30 countries, including the United States.
As Dr. Van Kerkhove, WHO epidemiologist, noted, XBB.1.16 replaced other existing variants in India. Because of this rapid spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Arcturus as a “variant of interest” on April 17th. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also tracking the variant across the United States.
According to the CDC data, XBB.1.16 is now 9% of the total COVID cases in the United States and is found in over 20 states. Sure, this is a small percentage of cases. But, as we know from the past, variants have the potential to mutate and cause widespread illness.
There is no need to panic; public health agencies continue to track the variant closely. Solv recommends staying informed so you can protect yourself and your loved ones.
How different is XBB.1.16 from previous variants?
Arcturus or XBB.1.16 is a subvariant of Omicron. This subvariant seems closely related to XBB.1.15, the Omicron subvariant that dominated late last year and early 2023. However, WHO says that the new subvariant has an additional mutation in its spike protein that increases its ability to transmit infections.
However, the bivalent vaccine released last year offers protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID variants, including previous Omicron subvariants, including XBB.1.15 (CDC study).
What are the symptoms of XBB.1.16? Can it cause pink eye?
Since Arcturus is new to US soil and is only 9% of the total cases, the CDC has yet to release a list of symptoms. Although conjunctivitis, or ‘pink eye’ has been reported as a symptom of previous COVID variants, there are anecdotal reports of an increase in conjunctivitis with Arcturus. Typically the conjunctivitis is associated with other COVID symptoms as well, and does not present alone.
According to Dr. Rob Rohatsch, Chief Medical Officer at Solv, “Until and unless the list of COVID symptoms from the CDC is officially changed, continue to use the CDC’s list as a guide and consider taking a COVID test if you experience any such symptoms.”
The CDC lists the following COVID symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle or body aches
- Loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Nausea or vomiting
Symptoms of COVID are similar to other infections, like the flu. If you feel sick or have COVID-like symptoms, Solv can help you find a COVID test and an urgent care center near you.
Should you worry about the new Omicron subvariant?
The Arcturus variant is spreading faster than previous ones and may evade our immunity — even if you have been sick with the XBB 1.15. However, there is no need to worry since symptoms have been mild, with no rise in hospitalizations or ICU admissions.
Remember, having COVID is often similar to having the flu—even if you do not have severe disease or get admitted to a hospital, fighting a fever and other symptoms is not pleasant. Also, you may have to take time off work and risk infecting your loved ones.
It may help to remember that XBB.1.16 is a part of the Omicron family, similar to previous versions. So, COVID tests can detect Arcturus, and existing COVID treatments work.
Do COVID vaccines protect against XBB.1.16? Should I get a booster?
Dr. Rohatsch says, “If you are up to date with your vaccines, including the bivalent booster released last Fall, you do not need an additional shot right now. If you are unvaccinated, the good news is that, now, all you need is the single, bivalent vaccine which covers the original strain together with Omicron variants. Additionally, the FDA recently approved a second booster shot for people who are above 65 or have compromised immunity.”
Solv can help you schedule your COVID vaccines or visit a licensed provider near you.
How can you protect your family against the new COVID wave?
- Stay updated on COVID vaccines, including the bivalent booster. The CDC recommends 1 updated booster for everyone aged 6 months and older. Ages 65 and older and immunocompromised individuals are eligible for a second bivalent booster shot. The CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccines for people who are pregnant and children.
- Take a COVID test if you begin to experience COVID-like symptoms.
- Talk to a licensed provider if you need to receive treatment for COVID.
Solv can help you book same-day appointments and urgent care visits with a provider near you.
The content provided here and elsewhere on the Solv Health site or mobile app is provided for general informational purposes only. It is not intended as, and Solv Health, Inc. does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always contact your healthcare provider directly with any questions you may have regarding your health or specific medical advice.
The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Solv Health and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Solv Health only to confirm educational value and reader interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with your healthcare provider.
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- WHO, XBB.1.16 Initial Risk Assessment (April 17, 2023)
- CDC COVID data tracker (April 21, 2023)
- XBB.1.5: A new Covid variant spreads across the US. What do you need to know? (January 05, 2023)
- WHO press conference on COVID-19 and other global health issues (March 29, 2023)
- Early Estimates of Bivalent mRNA Booster Dose Vaccine Effectiveness in Preventing Symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infection Attributable to Omicron BA.5– and XBB/XBB.1.5–Related Sublineages Among Immunocompetent Adults — Increasing Community Access to Testing Program, United States, December 2022–January 2023 (January 25, 2023)
- Conjunctivitis a Symptom of COVID Variant Arcturus in India: What We Know (April 19, 2023)
- CDC Symptoms of COVID-19 (October 26, 2022)
- New COVID-19 variant 'Arcturus' is on the rise in US (April 24, 2023)
- FDA News Release: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Changes to Simplify Use of Bivalent mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines (April 18, 2023)
- CDC: Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccination (April 19, 2023)