FIVE Brits have died after catching the new Arcturus Covid strain, which is making its way around the UK.
The Omicron-spin off, which is considered to be the most infectious version of the disease yet, is being monitored by global health authorities, The World Health Organisation.
The bug is is ravaging parts of India with some areas of the country forced to reintrodue face mask rules in an attempt to quell the spread.
As of April 17, 2023, 135 Arcturus – scientifically known as XBB.1.16 -sequenced cases have been identified in Britain.
Data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows the variant has spread to every region besides North East England.
London has seen the most cases (30), followed by North West England (22) and South East England (19).
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Our map above shows how many cases of the new variant have been recorded in each region up to April 17 – this includes the five Brits who died after catching the new Arcturus Covid strain.
Areas of the map shaded in the darkest colours are the worst hit by infection.
The worst hit areas
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North West England (22)
South East England (19)
East of England (9)
West Midlands (6)
South West England and Gibraltar (3)
Northern Ireland (2)
Yorkshire and The Humber (1)
North East England (0)
Scientists studying the new strain of the bug believe it's better than it's predecessors at evading immune protection from vaccination or previous infection.
Japanese researchers have suggested it is 1.2 times more infectious than the already super transmissible strain, Kraken.
But there is no evidence to suggest the disease has increased in severity.
Prof Francois Balloux, the director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said: "In places that didn’t have an XBB.1.5 wave (e.g. India or China), it is expected to do well (as did XBB.1.5).
"Conversely, in places like the UK, it is not expected to have much of an impact on case numbers, and even less so, on hospitalisations and deaths."
He added: "XBB.1.16 is still at low frequency here in the UK, but it may become the next dominant variant in the future.”
Data shows the new strain makes up roughly 2.3 per cent of all new cases.
Officials at the Government health agency expect that one of the strains will become dominant in the coming weeks, they said.
"However, XBB.1.16 sample numbers are very low, and results may change as further data becomes available," they noted.
What are its symptoms?
Omicron typically causes a collection of cold or flu-like symptoms, such as:
- runny nose
- fatigue (mild or severe)
- sore throat
But Dr Vipin Vashishtha – a paediatrician and former head of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Immunisation – said the spread of Arcturus in India was bringing with it a new symptom that hadn't been present in earlier waves.
He said symptoms affecting the eyes were seeing a sudden surge in children.
The doctor said he was treating increasing numbers of infants with fever, cough and cold symptoms, and conjunctivitis causing 'itchy' and 'sticky' eyes.
However, there is currently no hard evidence to prove whether Arcturus is driving this new range of symptoms in children.
Will my vaccine work against it?
Early research suggests there is no need to be concerned about the a Arcturus.
The mammoth rollout of vaccines across the UK means many already have some level of protection from the bug.
And even though the variant is causing infections in people who have been vaccinated, it doesn't mean its capable of causing severe illness.
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