A new COVID strain is causing a common infection — pink eye. The new strain, dubbed XBB.1.16, accounts for about 14% of COVID infections in the United States, according to the CDC. To find out what parents should know about this new strain and symptom of COVID, Dr. Evelyn Pangonis, pediatric infectious disease doctor and medical director of infection control at Akron Children’s, provides answers to parents’ most pressing questions.
Is it true that people who have pink eye might also have COVID?
Yes, this is true. We first noticed that some patients early in the pandemic with the original COVID strain developed infection of the outer layer of the eye, also known as conjunctivitis or pink eye. Recently, this has been noticed in a small number of patients with COVID, even those without other symptoms. SARS-CoV-2 infects mucosal surfaces of the eyes, nose, mouth and throat. The eyes are less commonly affected, likely because of the lower number of receptors needed for the virus to attach to in order to cause infection.
If a parent suspects their child has pink eye, what should they do?
Pink eye has many different causes including bacterial, viral (including COVID) and allergies. A visit to the pediatrician may be required to determine the cause of your child’s symptoms.
Is there reason for concern?
Viral pink eye gets better with time and usually does not require treatment. If parents have concerns about the cause of their child’s pink eye or that it’s lasting longer than usual (a week or more), they should contact their doctor.
Though bacterial and viral pink eye may look the same, a doctor can usually tell the difference. Bacterial pink eye can produce more discharge than viral pink eye.
Need to see a doctor? Schedule an appointment with an Akron Children’s pediatrician.