What Is the Arcturus COVID Variant?

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is now monitoring a new COVID-19 variant called Arcturus, or XBB.1.161. What is different about this new variant, and should you be taking increased precautions against it? Read on below to find out.

What is the Arcturus variant?

The Arcturus variant is actually a subvariant of Omicron and has been identified in several countries around the world. The variant has a new and unique set of mutations that make it different from other strains of COVID-19. Reports from India and other parts of the world suggest that the variant could be linked to a higher transmissibility rate than previous strains.

One of the key reasons for this increased transmissibility is the presence of the E484K mutation, which has been associated with vaccine evasion and may make this variant spread quicker than previous ones. This mutation was also present in the Beta and Gamma variants, which were previously identified in South Africa and Brazil, respectively.


In addition to having a higher transmissibility rate than previous strains, the Arcturus variant stands out among the others for bringing along a new COVID symptom that hasn’t been seen in other strains. This symptom is conjunctivitis, also known as red or pink eye, which often comes with itchiness. 

In addition to conjunctivitis, the Arcturus variant also presents symptoms in common with previous strains of COVID-19, including fever or chills, a cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, head and body aches, loss of smell or taste, and a sore throat.


According to the CDC, the XBB.1.16 accounted for an estimated 7.2% of all COVID-19 samples in the United States from April 9 to April 15. That’s up from a 3.9% rate the week before and 2% two weeks prior, so this variant seems to be spreading quickly.

As of now, there aren’t an alarming number of Arcturus cases in the U.S., but the rapid growth in the reported number of cases of it could be a reason for concern. Healthcare officials and vaccine researchers will continue to study this and other new variants to learn how we can better protect ourselves from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

How can you protect yourself?

To protect yourself from the Arcturus COVID variant, it is important to follow the same guidelines as with other COVID variants. The CDC continues to recommend getting vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible and getting a booster shot when you have the option to.

Individuals at high risk for COVID-19 should also wear a mask in indoor settings and practice social distancing. Washing your hands regularly with soap and water and using hand sanitizer when a sink is not available can also help reduce your risk of infection for other diseases as well as COVID. If you feel sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, stay home and get tested.

More information about protection and other COVID-19 news can be found on the CDC’s website.

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