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Corona virus – Arcturus: How worried should we be about the new mutation

Featured Corona virus – Arcturus: How worried should we be about the new mutation

The eyes of the scientific community are focused on Arcturus, the new variant of the coronavirus that is sweeping India. This highly contagious variant, which emerged in January, reached Britain where at least 50 cases have been identified, while it has also been detected in other countries such as the US, Singapore and Australia, but cases are still few.

The XBB.1.16 variant, dubbed "Arcturos," is similar to the "Kraken" variant XBB.1.5—the most contagious variant to date, according to Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's COVID-19 technical lead.

How much should Arcturus worry us

"It actually started at least three months ago from India. It has not signaled a very big danger in other countries," said professor of Intensive Care Pulmonology at the University of Athens Theodoros Vasilakopoulos  to public broacaster ERT.

According to the professor, the appearance of the new wave of coronavirus in India does not particularly worry scientists as this country has different epidemiological characteristics compared to Greece. And as he revealed, the World Health Organization has yet to name Omicron's new sub-variant as a high-risk strain.

"Laboratory studies say that in the worst case it will be 20% more contagious and probably not more severe. We hope that it will not cause serious problems in the health systems," he said.


Referring to the symptoms of the new variant, he emphasized that it has some particularities, in the sense that in India it causes conjunctivitis a little more often - especially in children - i.e. red eyes with blisters, eyelids that cannot be opened."

Vasilakopoulos explained, according to ertnews, that the virus will continue to evolve and that it is not going to magically disappear. "Some of these transformations of the virus will give strains which will probably acquire some new characteristics," he noted.

In fact, he did not fail to say that within the next two years it is possible that we will see a stronger strain of the coronavirus. "As time goes by, the virus tries to become more contagious because that's the only way someone survives inside hosts, but it doesn't want the virus to kill its hosts because if it kills them, it won't be able to be transmit itself," he added.

Athens University: Let's stay vigilant

According to the latest data, summarized by Theodora Psaltopoulou and Yiannis Danasis of the Therapeutic Clinic of the Medical School of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, we need to be alert.

According to these scientists, the new variant is a recombination, or combination, of two descendants of the so-called "stealth Omicron" BA.2. Compared to the earlier XBB variant, it has three additional mutations, according to the WHO.

To date, laboratory studies have not been completed on the severity of the disease that the variant can cause. Hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths have yet to increase due to the new variant, according to the WHO.

Whether the new variant is actually capable of leading to an increase in hospitalizations and/or deaths may be too early to tell. Of particular concern is the K478R mutation, which can make the variant more effective at overcoming the neutralizing ability of antibodies from previous infection and vaccination, causing symptomatic infection and spreading, according to the WHO. Booster doses of vaccines are expected to offer some degree of protection, especially if vaccination is recent. The antiviral pill Paxlovid (nirmatelvir/ritonavir) is expected to continue to have activity against the new variant. In addition, XBB.1.16 has shown the ability to quickly outperform the US-dominant XBB.1.5 in terms of propagation. The new variant has shown a strong growth advantage in the last three months.

It is important that we as a society and as a global community remain vigilant about new SARS-CoV-2 variants that are emerging, as the impact of a new variant on the transmissibility of the virus and the severity of the disease that it causes cannot be known in advance. causes

Vasilakopoulos: This is the big health risk

According to Professor Vasilakopoulos, "the big danger at the moment is that we all want to forget about the pandemic. So we have put both the measures and the surveillance completely aside and there is a danger that some variant will come again which may really more difficult and not recognizable in time".

He did not fail to refer to the scientific research, stressing that the US has decided to finance, in addition to the 18 billion dollars they have already given, with another 5 billion dollars the development of vaccines which will be for the upper respiratory tract, in order to they reduce the transmissibility of the virus, but also of the vaccines that will address all coronaviruses.

"There is hope that within the next period of time the disease will also be able to be treated by the scientific community with new, more important tools", pointed out the professor of Pulmonology.

Let's not forget to protect the vulnerable ahead of Easter

Responding to whether we will need to do a fourth vaccine, he appeared confident. "That we will need to make a new vaccine in the fall is certain. I don't think we will be able to get the new vaccine that quickly. There are vaccines in clinical trials," he added, saying the new vaccines would offer protection against all coronaviruses.

Regarding the celebration of Easter and the family and friendly tables where we will all gather, Mr. Vasilakopoulos stated that the circulation and positivity that exists in our country is much smaller than other years. However, he said, we have now learned how to protect our dear loved ones who are vulnerable, who are either elderly or have health problems.

He urged people to undergo a rapid test and use the mask in places, such as churches, where there are many people.