Arcturus or flu – what you should know about the new corona variant

Cases in India continue to rise: How seriously ill does Arcturus make? That’s what the experts say

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    There is no genetic engineering in the plant

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    Genetically modified

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Some are on the alert, others are quite relaxed: In India, Arcturus is causing infections to skyrocket. The first deaths are associated with the new Corona variant XBB.1.16. However, most cases are mild. What experts know so far.

In Germany, people are wearing masks less and less, butchers are dismantling the plexiglass partitions and there are almost no corona measures anymore. The last entry rules for those returning from vacation and the obligation to wear masks for visits to health facilities expire at Easter.

The situation in India is very different at the moment. There, those responsible remind you of protection options such as avoiding crowds. The new Corona variant XBB.1.16 has been increasing the number of cases there for a few weeks – albeit at a low absolute level.

Arcturus or flu? What you should know about the new Corona variant

The Indian expert Vipin Vashishta, a pediatrician and researcher at the Mangla Hospital and Research Center in Bijnor, India, and a member of the WHO vaccine group, was alarmed. A dead person in Maharashtra is also associated with the variant called Arcturus. How the further development will proceed cannot currently be foreseen, the doctor tweeted. In some regions of India, XBB.1.16 has quickly become the dominant variant.

How sick does the omicron subline make? Why can she evade our immunity? How is the situation in Germany? And how do the symptoms differ from the flu that the influenza B virus is currently causing in this country. The most important questions at a glance:

Where did Arcturus originate?

The coronavirus is constantly mutating and evolving. That is his nature. XBB.1.16 now appears to be able to evade the hybrid immunity developed by humans – which arises when someone was both vaccinated and infected. The first case of XBB.1.16 was detected in Pune on February 3, 2023, Hindustan Times reports, before being officially labeled as such around the world on March 5. In Mumbai, the variant first appeared on March 11.

What is the structure of Corona variant XBB.1.16?

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the subline is characterized by three additional mutations in the so-called spike protein (E180V, K478R, S486P). That is not all. “XBB.1.16 has a number of other changes in the genome that not only affect the spike protein, but also the so-called ORF9b gene, which is involved in suppressing the interferon response,” explains Friedemann Weber, head of the institute for virology at the University of Giessen, the biological details for FOCUS online.

Interferons are messenger substances that are produced by infected cells to warn other cells of the infection and to initiate countermeasures. However, Sars-CoV-2 has a whole range of these so-called interferon antagonists, and ORF9b has not yet been one of the strongest representatives.

Therefore, Weber’s conclusion is: “I do not expect that the two XBB.1.16-specific mutations in ORF9b would radically change this. This, together with the new spike mutations, shows that XBB.1.16 certainly has potential to outperform existing immunity by a bit.”

How dangerous is Arcturus actually?

Experts warn against panic, there is still hardly any reliable data. How well our immune system can fight off Arcturus will help determine how dangerous the variant becomes. XBB.1.16 could “skilfully circumvent immunity,” explains Rajesh Karyakarte, the head of microbiology at BJ Medical College (BJMC) sequenced the first Arcturus representatives and informed the Ministry of Health on March 10th. According to one of his team members, this also applies to the robust immunity after vaccination and infection. At the same time, the variant is spreading even faster than its predecessors – and has now displaced them in the first regions.

However, the number of hospital admissions has not yet skyrocketed as a result. “Most patients had mild symptoms,” reports Karyakarte.
The Times of India

What are the symptoms of XBB.1.16?

Rajas Walinjkar, doctor at Seven Hills Hospital, which treats many inpatients,
describes the symptoms as follows

  • fever lasting less than 48 hours
  • sore throat
  • body aches

This is therefore a profile similar to that seen with the previous Omikron variants.

Mehr zur Omikron-Variante

How are the symptoms of the current influenza B virus different?

As compared to other Sars-CoV-2 variants, the symptoms differ only marginally and vary from person to person. About a third of all influenza illnesses typically begin with

  • a sudden feeling of illness,
  • Fever,
  • sore throat and
  • dry cough.
  • Accompanying can
  • Muscle-,
  • limbs,
  • back or
  • added headache.

“Especially in older people, the signs of illness are often not as pronounced,” continues the Federal Center for Health Education (BzgA). They are more like a cold. “If the course is uncomplicated, the symptoms will subside after five to seven days. But the cough can last much longer.”

The disease can vary in severity – with mild or even no symptoms at all. However, serious illnesses with fatal consequences are also possible. The most common complication is pneumonia. Children can also develop middle ear infections. Inflammation of the brain or heart muscle occurs only rarely.

How common are flu and corona in Germany?

The current second wave of influenza is just beginning to flatten out. She had immediately followed the winter wave with influenza A viruses. The RKI recently explained to the dpa request that influenza B had caused the flu wave to prolong, but not to an interruption around the turn of the year.

The activity of acute respiratory diseases (ARE rate) in the population (GrippeWeb) was at a relatively stable high level from the fourth calendar week. The current value was in the upper value range of the pre-pandemic years at this time.

The Robert Koch Institute writes about the spread in the current weekly report on acute respiratory diseases (ARE): At the end of March, influenza viruses and Sars-CoV-2 were detected in all age groups. Influenza viruses circulated mainly in school children (5 to 14 years) and young adults (15 to 34 years).

The Sars-CoV-2 positive rate was highest in the twelfth calendar week in infants (up to one year old), but Sars-CoV-2 was also frequently detected in those aged 60 and over. However, the corona numbers are considered to be not very reliable, since many people no longer have a PCR test done or do not get it at all.

When is a test useful?

Anyone in Germany who is currently plagued by fever, sore throat or other symptoms of acute respiratory diseases is more likely to be infected with influenza B than with XBB.1.16 – even if its spread in Germany is still unclear (see below).

“You don’t have to be tested immediately if you have a mild runny nose, cough or sore throat,” explains Martin Scherer, Director of the Institute for General Medicine at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) and President of the German Society for General Medicine and Family Medicine (DEGAM) of the “Foundation Health Knowledge “ to the corona test. “But as soon as other symptoms, such as fever, appear, a test can make sense – especially if you want to go among people.” Anyone who has the opportunity to avoid contact with other people for a few days and isolate themselves at home , do not necessarily need a test for mild symptoms – provided the symptoms can be controlled well with rest and home remedies. If you are not sure, you can ask your family doctor whether a test is necessary.

How sick does Arcturus make?

Little is known about XBB.1.16’s disease-causing ability. From India, the physician Vipin Vashishta reported a death associated with Arcturus. Otherwise, as mentioned, the courses are predominantly mild.

For subline XBB.1.5, which is currently prevalent in Germany, the RKI writes: Preliminary data do not indicate an increased severity of the disease.

Experts do not expect this for Arcuturus either. “I don’t think that Arcturus will lead to many severe courses again,” explains Ulf Dittmer, Director of the Institute for Virology at the University Hospital in Essen, when asked by FOCUS online. Especially people who have been vaccinated first and are then mildly/moderately ill have a very broad immunity – through antibodies as well as through T-cells. That applies to many in Europe. “This protects them very well against serious illness and no conceivable variant can completely avoid it.”

The number of Arcturus cases in Germany

Arcturus is a subline of the now dominant omicron recombinants XBB.1 in Germany. For Germany, the RKI expects a further increase in the proportion of XBB.1 sublines in the coming weeks.

So far there is talk of six cases in Germany. However, experts do not know the numbers exactly. Because in the latest weekly report from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), XBB.1.16 is not shown separately.

The low number can also be related to the fact that not all infected people have a PCR test done, which is necessary for sequencing the variant.