Conjunctivitis or pink eye may be common during spring as a sign of seasonal allergies. But it has also increased in occurrence lately because of the latest COVID-19 variant, XBB.1.16, also known as Arcturus.

Conjunctivitis as a symptom of COVID-19 is not new. Earlier variants also reported it in about 1% to 3% of patients, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. There haven't been updated tracking reports of this symptom for some time.

But this week, eye doctors and infectious disease specialists witnessed a spike in pink eye cases alongside the spread of the newest omicron subvariant. Anecdotal evidence showed children may be more at risk of developing the symptom once infected with Arcturus.

So what's the best thing to do when you or someone you love has the symptom?

Dr. Ronald Benner, an optometrist and president of the American Optometric Association, recommended seeing an eye doctor if one suspects an infection as their eyes become inflamed or red with other symptoms, including itching, discomfort and discharge.

Doctors usually prescribe eye drops with antibiotics if it's bacterial pink eye. For those caused by allergies, a simple eye drop can already alleviate the itching and puffiness of the eyes, Benner explained via USA Today.

For viral infections, the symptom is self-limiting and will go away in seven to ten days said Benner. But to ensure comfort while battling the illness, one can use a cool washcloth or artificial tears.

He added that patients should be more careful about their hygiene when they have pink eye. They should avoid touching their eyes, wash their hands frequently with soap and water and not share personal items such as eye makeup with others.

Dr. Jeff Pettey, an associate professor at the University of Utah Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, also told USA Today that COVID pink eye is similar to other pink eye viral infections.

"Symptoms can range from very mild to severe with eye pain and cloudy vision from cornea involvement. If someone has pink eye with other symptoms of COVID, they should test or seek medical care," Pettey said.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially designated XBB.1.16 as a variant of interest after noticing how fast-growing the new strain has become. The omicron subvariant is now the dominant strain in India. It has also been spotted in 32 other countries.

But while Arcturus is deemed highly contagious or fast spreading due to its new mutation, the variant does not seem to cause severe illness, with most cases reporting only mild symptoms.

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Artistic representation of COVID testing. fernando zhiminaicela - Pixabay