Can COVID-19 Cause Itchy Eyes or Pink Eyes?

Experts are seeing a new symptom emerging from the latest COVID-19 subvariant: conjunctivitis, also known as “pink eye.”

As the symptoms of COVID-19 changed over time with each new variant emerging, common complaints became suspicious. Just as a runny nose can no longer be immediately dismissed as “just a cold” or allergies, now red and itchy eyes, especially in babies and young children, may not be caused by cold viruses — instead, it could be a symptom of XBB .1.16, an omicron subvariant now being closely monitored across the world.

XBB. 1.16 More Likely to Cause Fever and Pink Eye

The new subvariant, dubbed “arcturus,” has been reported in 29 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Although the earlier subvariant XBB.1.5 is still responsible for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), XBB.1.16 infections are rising quickly, with the percentage of cases nearly doubling from 3.9 to 7.2 percent in the last week.

Although the new variant is very similar to XBB.1.5, it has one additional mutation in the spike protein which makes it more contagious, says William Schaffner, MD, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

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