An ocular manifestation of Covid-19, conjunctivitis or pink eye has been listed among the many symptoms of the viral disease since the pandemic began. However, very few people had encountered this rare symptoms of Covid-19 in the earlier waves. Turns out pink eye has made a comeback with Covid infections driven by XBB.1.16 or Arcturus and has been mostly reported in kids. Doctors are, however, still not sure if pink eye can be directly associated with Arcturus or as a new symptoms and are saying it’s too early to say that. (Also read: Covid XBB.1.16: Symptoms of new Covid variant Arcturus in adults, children and elderly)
Conjunctivitis is a highly contagious inflammation of the outer membrane of the eyeball and inner eyelid called the conjunctiva, the thin, clear layer that covers the white surface of the eye and the inner eyelid. The common symptoms of conjunctivitis is red eye, discharge or crusting on eyelids, watery eyes, excessive tearing, grainy or scratchy feeling in the eye, sensitivity to light and pain in the eyes, as per Dr. Mridula V Amarnath, Ophthalmologist, Apollo Clinics, HSR Layout, Bengaluru.
What’s new about XBB.1.16?
XBB.1.16 or Arcturus has additional mutations in its spike protein due to which it has become more infectious and is more likely to escape immunity from earlier infections and vaccination. The symptoms, however, remain mild.
“XBB.1.16 commonly known as Arcturus is a subvariant of Omicron and is the second most prominent strain of Coronavirus with a high transmission rate. This new strain is also found in India and it had additionally spiked mutations that prevent the protective antibodies from binding to them. As a result, it can easily escape immunity and infect adults. While there are symptoms of sore throat, high fever, runny nose, frequent headaches, gastrointestinal problems, diarrhoea, muscle, and joint pain, we are also getting complaints of red eyes. There is a possibility that this could be one of the symptoms of this new variant, but it is still too early to tell,” says Dr Rajeev Gupta, Director – Internal Medicine, CK Birla Hospital (R), Delhi.
“Covid-19 cases have been gradually increasing all over the country in the last two weeks, although the hospitalisations and severity of infection is still on the minimal side. The variant which is predominantly causing positive cases of Covid-19 is called XBB.1.16 or Arcturus. With high infectivity, capacity to evade immune mechanisms and higher transmission rate (especially in elderly and children), there is a concern regarding this variant. Although most of the symptoms are similar to previous variants such as cough, cold, fever, body pain, fatigue and abdominal pain, there are cases of pink eye associated with this Covid-19 variant,” says Dr Charu Dutt Arora, Infectious Disease Specialist, Consultant Physician, AmeriHealth, Asian Hospital.
Symptoms of Covid conjunctivitis
“They include watery eyes, redness, irritation/ itching, swelling, pain, and discharge are seen more commonly among children, especially those below the age of 12 years. This can be due to the immune system of children being weaker as compared to adults. Therefore, it is crucial to focus on vaccination and getting booster shots. This helps in reducing infections and the severity of the illness even if there is no exact match of the antibodies. Apart from that, it is also recommended to follow the Covid-appropriate behaviour that includes social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands,” says Dr Gupta.
“Pink eye aka conjunctivitis is the inflammation and swelling of the transparent membrane covering the eye lid and eyelashes. It presents with redness, itchiness and gritty feeling (in unilateral or bilateral eyes) and a development of crust over the eyelids/eyelashes. The paediatric age is the most commonly affected group with pink eye. One most common reason is the possibility of touching eyes regularly after touching nose and mouth. Also, the Covid-19 virus has a propensity of infecting membranes, like lung, eyes and nose. There is an increasing incidence of pink eye in elderly age group due to high usage of spectacles or lenses. To cut down on symptoms of pink eye, one must practice hand hygiene, keep pets away from bedroom, reducing pollen and using air filters to decrease the chances of allergies,” says Dr Arora.
Other causes of conjunctivitis
“While this condition is more likely to be caused by a bacterial infection in babies, adults are more likely to have viral conjunctivitis, which is self-limiting within a week or ten days and often requires no treatment. During summers, the heat causes evaporation of tears. This leads to incidence of dry eyes, allergy to pollens, animal dander and pollutants increasing the chances of allergic conjunctivitis. This also goes untreated commonly. Such cases can be treated with topical antihistamines and mast cell stabilizer eye drops. It is also advised that contact lenses are used properly under medical supervision. Antibiotic eye drops are recommended for those with bacterial conjunctivitis to reduce its transmission and infection,” says Dr Amarnath.
How to manage conjunctivitis
Dr Amarnath suggests some simple tips to manage conjunctivitis:
• Keep hands away from eyes
• Frequent hand washing
• Replacing eye make-up frequently
• Do not share towels, eye make-up, handkerchiefs, or eye drops
• Using care and good hygiene when using contact lenses
• Use sunglasses outdoors for UV ray and dust protection.