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Arcturus: The Most Transmissible Covid Variant Yet

Arcturus Covid
Lab studies show that Arcturus exhibits increased infectivity. Credit: AMNA

Arcturus, a newly discovered Covid variant, is the most transmissible variant yet and has already been detected in 29 countries as of April 11, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Also known as Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, it has been fueling a new surge in many countries including US, Singapore, India and Australia, among others.

The WHO declared XBB.1.16 a “variant under monitoring” in late March saying that it is the most transmissible variant yet. Maria Van Kerkhove, Covid technical lead for the WHO, said, XBB.1.16 variant is considered “one to watch” by the world health body.

Research indicates Arcturus could be 1.2 times more infectious than the last major sub-variant.

Addressing Arcturus’s emergence at a press conference on 29 March, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid, said: “It’s been in circulation for a few months.

“We haven’t seen a change in severity in individuals or in populations, but that’s why we have these systems in place. It has one additional mutation in the spike protein, which, in lab studies, shows increased infectivity as well as potential increased pathogenicity.”

Covid variant Arcturus proves “we are not out of the woods”

In India, the country’s health ministry reported 40,215 active Covid cases on 12 April, up by 3,122 in just one day, prompting compulsory face masks to be introduced in some states, hospitals to carry out mock drills and vaccine production to be ramped up.

Dr Vipin Vashishtha, a pediatrician and former head of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Immunisation, told The Hindustan Times that Arcturus’s symptoms include a high fever, cough and “itchy” conjunctivitis or pinkeye.

Scientists at the University of Tokyo comparing the Kraken and Arcturus sub-variants have suggested that the newer strain spreads about 1.17 to 1.27 times more efficiently than its relative, warning that it “will spread worldwide in the near future” aided by the fact that it seems “robustly resistant” to antibodies lingering in the body from previous Covid infections.

Virologist Professor Lawrence Young from the University of Warwick told The Independent that the rise of the new variant in India is a sign that “we’re not yet out of the woods.”

“We have to keep an eye on it,” he said. “When a new variant arises you have to find out if it’s more infectious, more disease-causing, is it more pathogenic? And what’s going to happen in terms of immune protection.

Although XBB.1.16’s genetic makeup suggests it could lead to more severe Covid-19 symptoms, the data scientists have on the variant so far suggests it hasn’t done so.

“It’s likely that it’s going to be more of the same in the sense that we might see a rise in cases and we might see a corresponding rise in hospitalizations associated with it,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, clinical investigator at Toronto General Hospital Research Institute and associate professor at the University of Toronto told CTV News.

“It’s extremely unlikely that it’s going to cause the same degree of pressure on our health-care system as we once saw earlier on in the pandemic.”

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