Ever since public health officials and medical doctors confirmed that the new COVID-19 variant XBB.1.16 or Arcturus could cause conjunctivitis or pink eye, there have been assumptions about how difficult it would be to distinguish from seasonal allergies. But it's actually easier to tell the difference between the two.

Last week, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released a statement on the detection of the first cases of Arcturus in residents of Los Angeles County, noting that pink eye has been tied to the new COVID-19 transmissions.

According to the statement, observational data suggested people infected with XBB.1.16 could experience conjunctivitis as a symptom of infection. However, for those who have yet to get tested, it's not that hard to tell if their pink eye is due to allergies or the new SARS-CoV-2 strain.

The department said conjunctivitis experienced by Arcturus-infected patients often comes with typical symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath, among others.

"However, residents should be aware that itchy, watery or red eyes may be a sign of a COVID-19 infection, and these symptoms should not be simply dismissed as a result of pollen or seasonal allergies, especially if someone more vulnerable to severe illness could be exposed," the department stated.

Health experts have not conclusively linked conjunctivitis to the newest "variant of interest," but local officials said the public should "take the same sensible COVID precautions" to avoid getting infected, ABC News reported.

Late last month, medical experts warned parents of XBB.1.16 because the strain appeared to cause high fevers and conjunctivitis without pus in infected children. One of them, William Schaffner, M.D., said the symptoms could last a week.

"It is more likely than the other omicron variants to produce fever, and it is producing conjunctivitis (pink eye), especially in children. So far, the pink eye appears to last several days to a week, similar to the conventional viral pink eye," the professor of preventive medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, said.

The Los Angeles County health department encouraged the public to get tested using the free at-home kits when suspecting COVID-19 at the first sign of conjunctivitis. This way they can promptly isolate and help stop the virus from spreading after testing positive.

Health officials are also confident that the current vaccines and therapeutics are capable of protecting and warding off severe illness since XBB.1.16 is a descendant of the omicron variant.

How To Get A Free At-Home COVID-19 Test
Free at-home testing kits for COVID-19 are available.