New Variant Panic in Coronavirus: What Is Arcturus Variant (XBB.1.16) and In Which Countries Is It Spreading?
Just as much of the world has eased out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are faced with yet another SARS-CoV-2 variant that is spreading across the world and gaining traction in many countries worldwide. Fueling an enormous surge in COVID-19 cases and causing a return to face mask mandates in India, the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) is sparking worldwide concern over the future of the pandemic. In fact, the novel variant has quickly been classified as a variant under monitoring (VUM) by the World Health Organization (WHO) due to its potentially enhanced pathogenicity and infectivity. Although the detection of new variants is challenged by the reduction of most surveillance and sequencing efforts, the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) has already been detected in at least 33 countries around the world. Read along to learn more about the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16), its symptoms, current incidence around the world, and the most effective ways to protect yourself against infection and severe disease.
What is Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16)?
XBB.1.16, or the Arcturus variant, is a recombinant strain of the Omicron variant. It has been presumed to originate from India, and its initial samples were initially detected in India in mid-January. While much remains to be discovered about the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16), early evidence suggests that its mutational profile may be highly similar to that of Omicron XBB.1.5. However, the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) has one additional mutation in its spike protein which has been previously associated with potentially increased infectivity and pathogenicity.
So how concerned should we be? The World Health Organization classified the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) under monitoring (VUM) on March 22. According to the formal working definition by the World Health Organization (WHO), this classification designates the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) as a strain that exhibits early signs of growth advantage over other circulating variants with mutations that are suspected of altering its viral characteristics. However, given the current insufficiency of data regarding its exact phenotypic or epidemiological impact, the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) requires enhanced monitoring until further evidence.
Thus, although the Arcturus variant is currently under monitoring by various global and national public health agencies, it has not yet been classified as a variant of interest (VOI) or variant of concern (VOC). Unless it demonstrates a clear and widespread growth advantage over other variants in circulation, the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) does not constitute a variant of interest (VOI). Likewise, as long as it does not prove to cause more severe disease, impair health systems, or evade vaccine-induced protection, the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) can not be designated as a variant of concern (VOC). As for now, there is insufficient evidence to support that the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) is an emerging risk to global public health.
What are the symptoms of the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16)?
Current data suggests that the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) shares the majority of the symptoms that have been associated with other strains of the Omicron variant. Therefore, cold or flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, and headaches are still among the most common signs of infection with the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16). However, early reports from India and other parts of the world demonstrate that the novel variant may cause symptoms that are less typical with past strains of Omicron. These relatively unusual symptoms include conjunctivitis, along with red or itchy eyes. Still, there is currently no evidence to suggest that the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) is causing more severe and persistent disease or complications.
Where has the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) spread?
Since its initial detection in mid-January, the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) has quickly spread within India and across more than 33 countries around the world. Today, the variant has reached more than 67% prevalence in India. Among Indian states, Chhattisgarh (94%), Maharashtra (%68), Gujarat (71%), Tamil Nadu (58%), and Haryana (67%) are the most heavily affected areas. Apart from India, Brunei, Singapore, French Guiana, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Australia account for the highest prevalence of the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) in the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) is already estimated to be responsible for around 7.2% of all new COVID-19 cases, which places the new variant just below XBB.1.5. Given its rapid rise in cases relative to most other SARS-CoV-2 variants in circulation, experts expect the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) to spread further and become more prevalent worldwide.
How to protect yourself against the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16)?
Although the Arcturus variant (XBB.1.16) has not yet been found to cause more severe disease, lead to complications, or evade vaccine-induced immunity, experts argue that as its prevalence continues to rise, the new variant may begin to affect those with low or immunocompromised immunities and lead to an increase in hospitalizations. For now, staying up to date with offered COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots remains the most efficient personal precaution against severe disease and death. Finally, testing proves critical for screening and contact tracing purposes, especially with regard to newly emerging variants. Enabling a quick, convenient, affordable, and accurate method to check for all strains of SARS-CoV-2 rapid antigen tests such as our RapidFor™ SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Antigen Test Kit and RapidFor™ SARS-CoV-2 & FLU A/B Antigen Combo Test Kit offers significant benefits in the detection and differentiation of SARS-COV-2 and other common respiratory infections such as influenza.