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COVID-19: Arcturus variant

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on


  • The new Arcturus COVID-19 variant is being monitored by health organizations. 
  • Arcturus symptoms often include eye redness and itchiness.
  • Arcturus is not more severe than other variants but may be highly contagious and may evade the current immunity we have built up against previous variants.

The new COVID variant Acturus is highly transmissible, which may put hospital resources under stress. Thus, the variant is being monitored by health organizations. Arcturus stands out from the other variants as it has a high possibility of causing red, irritated, itchy eyes. In this article, we’ll explain all there’s to know about Arcturus, its dangers, symptoms, and treatment options.

What is Arcturus?

Arcturus, also known as XBB.1.16, is a subvariant of Omicron and has spread rapidly in many countries since it was first discovered. The World Health Organization (WHO) first labeled this COVID variant as a variant of interest starting mid-April 2023.1 In September 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designated the variant as a variant being monitored. This means that according to the CDC, the new COVID variant Acturus complies with at least one of the following criteria:2

  • A variant previously designated as a variant of interest, concern, or great concern is currently not circulating at high levels anymore.
  • A variant with a high number of mutations and presence in multiple countries over the last 4 weeks.
  • A variant that previously caused severe disease or increased transmission but which is no longer being detected at this point.
  • A variant that is less affected by the available medical treatments and vaccinations due to its mutations.

What are the symptoms of the Arcturus variant?

Arcturus symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of other COVID-19 variants, although one particular symptom is typical for this variant. People who get infected by Arcturus seem to experience conjunctivitis, which is a condition that causes inflammation and redness in the white part of the eye. This may combine with itchiness, watering of the eyes, and feeling like your eyelids are sticky. As this is also a possible hay fever symptom, it’s essential to know the difference between COVID-19 and allergies.3

Other Arcturus symptoms may include, but are not limited to:4 5

Your Acturus infection may cause you to experience a combination of various symptoms, which may range from mild to severe. Some people experience very severe symptoms due to COVID-19. You should seek immediate medical help if you’re experiencing:4

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure on the chest
  • Confusion
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin

Is the Arcturus variant dangerous?

Arcturus does not appear to be more dangerous than the other circulating versions of the coronavirus. The WHO reported that the severity of this strain is low. The varus is mainly categorized as of interest  because it has a specific additional mutation, which creates an increased risk of high transmissibility and the possibility of escaping the immunity we’ve built up through vaccination programs and after infections with previous strains.

How long does the Arcturus variant last? 

The symptoms of COVID-19 usually appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus and may last for a few days up to a few weeks. There’s a lot of variation in the duration of COVID-19 symptoms, with some people not experiencing any symptoms at all and others experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 long after they’ve been infected. This situation is defined as long COVID

How can Arcturus be diagnosed?

If you suspect you may be infected with the coronavirus, then it’s advised to get tested. The new COVID-19 variant Arcturus can be diagnosed using the same PCR or antigen test used to diagnose other variants of COVID. Both test methods require a swab from the back of the throat or the nose, which can then be analyzed. The biggest difference between both test methods is that the PCR test has a higher sensitivity, meaning there’s a greater chance of detecting COVID if infected.7

What to do if you have Arcturus symptoms?

If you are experiencing symptoms of the Arcturus variant, then it’s advised to distance yourself from others, especially vulnerable people such as older people or individuals with underlying health conditions. 

Most people recover spontaneously from an infection with Arcturus without needing any therapy. You can, however, relieve your symptoms using home remedies such as:8 9

  • Resting as much as possible
  • Taking a painkiller such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Drinking enough water

Monitoring your symptoms is crucial, and it’s essential to reach out to your doctor for additional treatment if you experience any of the following:9

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Feeling extremely weak and struggling with basic tasks
  • You cannot stop shaking or shivering
  • Your symptoms are gradually getting worse
  • You continue to feel unwell for several weeks

Wrapping up 

Arcturus is a variant of interest due to its high transmissibility and possible chance of evasion of the immunity we’ve built up against previous variants of the coronavirus. Due to its typical symptoms of eye redness and itchiness, it’s crucial to distinguish between allergies and the coronavirus. If you suspect that you may have been infected, it’s always advised to get tested and to keep away from others until you receive your test results. 


Q: What is Arcturus? 
A: Arcturus is a variant of the coronavirus from the Omicron strain. It’s deemed to be highly contagious and may evade the immunity built up against previous variants. 

Q: Is there a new strain of COVID-19? 
A: Arcturus is a recombinant virus that stems from the original Omicron virus, which means that it’s a combination of 2 lineages. Arcturus has been monitored since the beginning of 2023 and is currently labeled as a variant of interest. 

Q: What is different about Arcturus? 
A: With Arcturus, there's a specific symptom that stands out. Many people who get infected present with red, itchy eyes. Besides that, Arcturus is highly transmissible and can cause symptoms similar to those of other COVID-19 variants. 

Q: Is XBB.1.16 more contagious? 
A: Health organizations have declared Arcturus highly contagious due to a specific mutation in its genome.