Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, has traditionally been a rare symptom associated with COVID-19 infection, as other respiratory illnesses such as the common cold are more commonly linked with the condition. However, experts have recently identified this as a potential symptom of the latest subvariant of the virus, XBB.1.16.
As COVID-19 continues to evolve with each new variant, previously overlooked symptoms, such as a runny nose or itchy eyes, should not be dismissed as mere allergies or cold viruses. With the emergence of new subvariants, it is important to remain vigilant and seek medical attention if experiencing any symptoms associated with COVID-19.
XBB.1.16 More Likely to Cause Fever and Pink Eye
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported the emergence of a new COVID-19 subvariant called “arcturus” in 29 countries. While XBB.1.5 remains the predominant subvariant in the US, the percentage of XBB.1.16 cases has almost doubled in the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Covid-19 Cases Rising Fast in India’s active Covid-19 Caseload has reached 25,587 with over 5,000.
According to William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, arcturus is similar to XBB.1.5 but has an additional mutation in the spike protein that makes it more contagious. Additionally, arcturus is more likely to cause fever and conjunctivitis, particularly in children, with the pink eye lasting several days to a week, similar to conventional viral pink eye.
It’s Doubtful That Pink Eye Will Be a Major Way That COVID-19 Spreads
According to Schaffner, although pink eye is unlikely to be a significant new mode of COVID-19 transmission, the virus is highly contagious and can spread through contact with infected hands. This is particularly concerning for children, as they may be more prone to person-to-person transmission.
Doctors in India First Spotted Pink Eye in Young Children and Babies with COVID-19
According to Schaffner, arcturus was initially detected in January and is now spreading rapidly in India. Since early April, healthcare providers have observed conjunctivitis as a new COVID-19 symptom, particularly among infants. Vipin Vashishtha, MD, a pediatrician at Mangla Hospital in Bijnor, India, and former head of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Immunization, reported treating infants with high fever, cold and cough, and non-purulent, itchy conjunctivitis with sticky eyes – a previously unseen phenotype during earlier waves of the pandemic. Here you can get Latest Coronavirus Live Updates in India.
Treatment and Prevention of COVID-19 and Pink Eye
Schaffner notes that treatment for COVID-related conjunctivitis is primarily symptomatic, with eye drops or ointment prescribed to alleviate eye symptoms. However, these treatments do not address the underlying cause of the disease.
To prevent the spread of XBB.1.16, Schaffner recommends adhering to standard COVID-19 precautions, including frequent handwashing and avoiding contact with individuals who have pink eye.
According to Paul Pottinger, MD, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, COVID-19 testing can still accurately detect this variant. Therefore, individuals who suspect they may have been infected should get tested.
Dr. Pottinger emphasizes that the emergence of the new subvariant is another compelling reason for both adults and children who are not yet fully vaccinated and boosted to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a wide range of symptoms with it, and now there may be two more to add to the list. Itchy eyes and conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, may be the latest symptoms associated with the virus.
According to a study published in the Journal of Medical Virology, about one-third of COVID-19 patients experience ocular symptoms such as itchiness, redness, and discharge. Conjunctivitis, in particular, was found in 1.1% of patients.
While it’s not yet clear how common these symptoms are or how they relate to the overall severity of COVID-19, experts recommend taking precautions such as avoiding touching your face and washing your hands regularly to reduce the risk of infection. If you do experience any symptoms, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider for guidance on testing and treatment.
As the pandemic continues to evolve, it’s crucial to stay informed about the latest developments and take steps to protect yourself and others. Remember to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and follow guidelines from public health officials.