New COVID-19 strain Arcturus may cause pink eye, LA County health officials say

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Friday, April 28, 2023
New COVID-19 strain may cause pink eye, LA County health officials say
Los Angeles County health officials noted that the new Arcturus strain of COVID-19 may be tied to an unusual symptom - pink eye.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles County public health officials are warning residents that a new strain of COVID-19 may be tied to pink eye.

Health experts have not conclusively linked pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, to the new strain. However, local officials are asking the public "take the same sensible COVID precautions" to avoid infection.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week the link between the strain Arcturus, or XBB.1.16, and pink eye is only from "observational data," and it remains too early to determine if the emergence of the new strain actually is linked to higher rates of conjunctivitis.

"However, residents should be aware that itchy, watery or red eyes may be a sign of a COVID-19 infection and these symptoms should not be simply dismissed as a result of pollen or seasonal allergies, especially if someone more vulnerable to severe illness could be exposed," according to the health department.

Current vaccines and therapeutics are highly likely to remain protective and able to ward off severe illness caused by the new strain, according to the health department.

The health department says pink eye can be painful, itchy and highly contagious. If left untreated, it can cause damage to the cornea. Historically, conjunctivitis was reported in 1-3% of COVID-19 cases.

Three confirmed cases of the new strain were reported in L.A. County last week. Modeling by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Arcturus accounts for 8% of COVID cases in California and 10% nationally.

City News Service contributed to this report.