A newer COVID subvariant of the dominant variant virus, omicron, is making headlines, because it seems to be causing considerable numbers of pinkeye cases. Pinkeye has been the common descriptive folk term for any process that turns your inflamed eye pink or red. The clear, continuous mucous membrane that covers your eyeball and inner lids is called the conjunctiva (CON-junk-TIE-vah). Any process that stimulates inflammation of your conjunctiva is called conjunctivitis. That’s easy.
The hard part is figuring out which bug or substance is the cause. The COVID strain in the spotlight now is XBB.1.16. This mutation was first identified in India fairly recently and has spread quickly. It has been identified in over 30 countries, and makes up over 12.5% of COVID U.S. cases currently, per the CDC. The variant is called Arcturus. It can be found in tears and spread via touching your infected eye and transferring it to someone else’s eye or mouth or nose, where it begins a new infective life and disease. Once in an eye, the viruses can spread systemically, or first enter other orifices and spread systemically to your conjunctiva. The good news is that Arcturus is not causing more dangerous disease than its other omicron predecessors.
People are also reading…
It seems this viral version has more attachment or spike protein mutations that favor mucous membrane attachment in upper respiratory tract and eye. It has been known since the start of the pandemic that COVID can cause eye symptoms like redness, itching, burning, and pain. The pain is usually from the cornea, the outer portion of the visual part of eyes, directly under the conjunctiva. If the cornea becomes inflamed, it senses pain.That’s when it starts to be serious, and vision can be damaged.
Arcturus’ pinkeye almost always comes with other symptoms like fever, cough, etc. The eyes generally turn pink or red and water a lot, the hallmark of most viral conjunctivitis. It last about a week, then disappears with no residual. There are an estimated 6 million U.S. doctor visits per year for conjunctivitis. The broad categories of causes include viruses (the most common source) various bacteria, allergies, chemical exposures, faulty contact lenses and physical trauma.
In the viral group a gang known as adenoviruses are responsible for maybe 90% of cases. Adeno- is the prefix for gland, like tear gland, its favored locale. With the inflammation, blood vessels dilate over the white eye part to give you “pink” eye, true with any cause. Other viruses can be influenza, measles, German measles, cold sore or shingles viruses (more often in just one eye), and others.
Bacterial infections more often generate a discharge that is pus-like, goopy (technical medical term), thick and sticky. A number of organisms can be the infective microbe, including Staph aureus. Often decreased vision and eye pain and swelling in your cornea occur, which is more serious. These should prompt an eye doctor visit pronto. Allergies tend to cause extreme itching of eyes and lids. Every time your kiddos start sneezing and rubbing their eyes around a cat or dog, allergy is a fair bet.
Just how often conjunctivitis occurs in COVID hasn’t been documented, now that the terrifying, more deadly strains have generated enough herd immunity to resist them, and public health resources are not being spent tracking viral footprints as before. Arcturus has joined the copious cast of conjunctivitis culprits. If you or your youngster develops bloodshot eyes along with a fever, sore throat, and cough, doing a COVID test is very reasonable. The COVID can’t be treated if mild, but detection can prevent further spread with hand washing, separate towels, etc. Here, could you say the “eyes” have it?