The new subvariant of the Arcturus coronavirus is now in Los Angeles Is there any reason to worry?

The new subvariant of the Arcturus coronavirus is now in Los Angeles Is there any reason to worry?

Los Angeles County has identified its first cases of an emerging subvariant of the Omicron coronavirus called Arcturus, a strain global health authorities are watching closely as it has been linked to a surge in cases in India.

Officially designated XBB.1.16, the subvariant has also attracted attention after anecdotal reports linking it to what has been a rare symptom of COVID-19: pink eye.

However, it is unclear whether this symptom is more pronounced in Arcturus than in previous Omicron strains. The last subvariant has not been shown to cause more serious disease.

It is possible, however, that Arcturus is even more infectious than the dominant US coronavirus strain, XBB.1.5. While that probably won’t be enough to trigger another wave of cases, any increase in transmission increases the risk for vulnerable people and, health officials say, reinforces the value of protective measures.

When we hear messages that pandemics are over or that COVID-19 is now endemic, it feels like people no longer need to be aware of its impact or take steps to protect themselves and others, Barbara Ferrer , director of public health for Los Angeles County. he said at a briefing on Thursday. Just seeing new strains with possible different symptoms should remind us that COVID continues to evolve.

It is unclear how many cases of Arcturus have appeared in California. At least three have been identified in Los Angeles County, according to Ferrer.

Because Arcturus is a subvariant of Omicron, Ferrer said it’s likely current vaccines and therapeutic drugs will be effective on this strain.

However, he said in an interview, “With any new mutation crowding out what’s already there … they’re likely to be able to pass on the infection more easily.” Then you may see a bump.

The unofficial nickname Arcturus is Latin and originates from the Greek word Arktouros, meaning guardian or watcher of the bear. It is also the name of the fourth brightest star in the night sky.

It is now believed to be the second most common strain of coronavirus circulating nationwide, accounting for about 7.2 percent of cases, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was up significantly from its estimated 2.1% share in the week ending April 1.

XBB.1.5, meanwhile, comprised about 78% of new cases nationwide in the week ending Saturday.

For the southwestern US, including California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific Territories, Arcturus accounted for approximately 9.8% of cases, up from an estimated 2.6% in the week ending April 1.

This is one to watch. It has been around for a few months, Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s chief technical officer on COVID-19, recently said.

In India, authorities say Arcturus has begun replacing older versions of the coronavirus.

From early reports in India and more than 20 countries, it doesn’t appear to be sending proportionately more people to hospital. But it’s causing a surge in cases, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco. With US case rates at relatively low levels, if you give a little more edge to a particular subvariant, it will cause an increase in cases.

There have also been anecdotal reports of pink eyeor conjunctivitis, in people infected with coronavirus in India, particularly in children.

Prior to Arcturus, pink eye had been associated as a symptom in 1-3% of coronavirus cases, according to Chin-Hong and Ferrer.

Left untreated, pink eye can go beyond just pain and itching to damage the cornea, Ferrer said.

It’s always been a side effect [of COVID-19], although very rare, he said. Left untreated, it can actually cause more damage to people’s eyes. If you have pink eye for any reason, it needs to be treated.

Pink eye can be caused by other viruses and bacteria. According to the National Eye Institute, it is one of the most common eye problems for both children and adults.

Just because you have pink eyes doesn’t necessarily mean you have COVID. You should go get tested, particularly if you have other symptoms, Ferrer said.

According to the National Eye Institute, people who are around someone with pink eye should wash their hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Always wash your hands before touching your eyes and after touching a person with pink eye or something they have used.

Don’t share personal items that the person with pink eye has used including pillows, towels, makeup or eyeglasses, the institute said.

People with pink eyes who wear contact lenses should consult their eye doctor about how to clean, store, and replace their lenses. They should also throw away any lenses, solutions, and cases they used while they had pink eye. The same goes for face or eye makeup, as well as makeup brushes or sponges.

Coronavirus cases are relatively stable at lower levels in California. As of Thursday, there was no sign of an increase in coronavirus levels in Los Angeles County wastewater or officially reported coronavirus cases.

But it’s always possible: I predict that if we see an increase, my hope would be that it would be relatively small, Ferrer said.

In the past week, Los Angeles County reported 44 COVID-19 deaths.

Compared to other points in the pandemic, we are seeing far fewer people die, Ferrer said on Thursday. However, these deaths are not insignificant. And COVID continues to be a leading cause of death in Los Angeles County and across the country.

In general, people at the highest risk of dying are older and not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots, or haven’t been treated with anti-COVID drugs, experts say.

Only 42 percent of eligible seniors in Los Angeles County have received the updated vaccine since it became available in September.

While many believe the days of hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients are over, any surge in cases could still lead to increased hospitalizations, underscoring the importance of staying up-to-date on vaccines (particularly for the elderly) and calling for medications anti-COVIDs such as Paxlovid and molnupiravir which are free in case of infection.

Data continues to mount on whether the updated COVID-19 vaccine saves lives and reduces the risk of hospitalization. Los Angeles County residents who received the updated booster were half as likely to die as people who were vaccinated but did not receive the updated booster, according to data for the 90-day period ending March 27.

People who received the updated booster were about one-tenth as likely to die as unvaccinated residents of Los Angeles County. Immunity from surviving a past infection alone doesn’t reliably provide the same kind of protection as vaccines.

These data illustrate the true protection offered by the dual-purpose booster, even against the newer variants that are circulating now, Ferrer said.

He also encouraged infected residents to take anti-COVID drugs like Paxlovid when prescribed, even if they don’t feel seriously ill.

Paxlovid has a great track record of reducing serious disease. And the one thing you don’t want to do is wait until you have a serious illness before getting it, if you’re in a high-risk category, Ferrer said.

Studies suggest that vaccination and Paxlovid also reduce the risk of long-term COVID.

Chin-Hong said he suspects the increase in the last subvariant was a factor in prompting federal officials to move this week to make another booster dose available to elderly and immunocompromised people.

I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like a regular increase in quotes again. But we will see these little bumps. And I feel that XBB.1.16 might cause a little increase in our cases, a little increase in hospitalizations, she said. But now we are so low that when you are that low you can only go in one direction, which is up.

Los Angeles County COVID-19 vaccination clinics began offering the additional updated doses Thursday.

Angelenos who need help accessing up-to-date vaccine, therapeutic COVID-19 drugs, or other COVID-19 resources can call (833) 540-0473, seven days a week, 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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