The World Health Organization (WHO) has added a new subvariant of COVID-19, referred to as "Arcturus," to its list of "variants of interest" due to its rapid spread around the world. The subvariant was first detected in India in January and now accounts for 4.2% of global cases and 9.6% of cases in the United States. While the WHO has highlighted its "immune escape characteristics," there is no indication of an increase in severity. Medical professionals have reported that Arcturus may cause pinkeye symptoms in some cases, including in children.
The latest WHO report also highlights that COVID metrics are declining globally, but there are still increases in reported cases and deaths in certain regions, including the South-East Asia and Eastern Mediterranean regions, which include India, Nepal, Korea, Iran, Egypt, and Pakistan, among others.
Despite the spread of Arcturus, the predominant strain worldwide and in the United States remains XBB.1.5, which accounts for 51% of cases globally and 79% of U.S. cases. This strain has been the most common in the United States throughout 2023.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not issued an official watchlist designation for Arcturus, and the WHO warns that overall COVID metrics do not provide an accurate picture of the state of the virus around the world. While Arcturus is a cause for concern, it is important to note that there is no indication of an increase in severity at this time.