Sore eyes or conjunctivitis is one of the new symptoms of COVID-19.

'Apart from having sore throat, runny nose and headache, there are also some (patients) in other countries that were observed to manifest sore eyes as well,' said Dr. Rontgene Solante, vice president of the Philippine College of Physicians, when asked about the symptoms of the COVID-19 subvariant XBB.1.16, at a public briefing Friday.

The infectious diseases expert added, 'We can see from available data that those who get sick with sore eyes also have sore throat, slight fever and cough. These are symptoms that you won't see from those suffering from conjunctivitis alone. This is a constellation of symptoms that includes sore eyes.'

Conjunctivitis or sore eyes is also referred to as 'pink eye' wherein pink or red color is observed in the white of the eye area as a result of inflammation of the tissues lining the eyelid (conjunctiva) caused by allergens, bacteria or viruses.

He also noted that based on the WHO classification, the XBB.1.16 or Arcturus has a growth advantage.

'This means people can easily get infected with this because of the mutations in the spike protein, therefore it is highly transmissible,' Solante said.

He added, 'Even those who are already vaccinated can be infected. That is why in some countries that already have XBB.1.16 cases, there has also been a slight increase in (COVID-19) cases.'

'But the important thing is that in those countries where cases of XBB.1.16 have been recorded, there were no signals that this virus or this variant of interest can cause severe COVID. So, most of the cases are only mild,' Solante said.

He advised the public that when experiencing these symptoms, it is important that they isolate themselves and just stay at home.

'They also have to wash their hands. And every time they touch their face or eyes, they should not be touching other people because that is another means of transmitting it (virus) to another individual,' Solante said.

At the same time, he pointed out that this slight increase in COVID-19 cases in the country are driven by the XBB sublineage of Omicron.

'Whether it's the XBB.1.5 or the XBB.1.9.1 or the XBB.1.16 - these are all variants of interest and there is always a possibility that they can cause increase in the cases among our population,' Solante said.

He advised the public, especially the vulnerable population, to keep on wearing face masks.

'As long as there are these variants of interest, we will continue to encourage people to wear their face mask, particularly the vulnerable population - the 65 years old and above, those with comorbidities and the immunocompromised,' he said.

Solante added that 'encouraging people to wear face masks instead of making it mandatory means that we are teaching them how to make that particular decision on how to protect ourselves.'

'It is not that every time there is a spike in COVID-19 cases, we have to make a recommendation of this mandatory use of face masks. We need to live with the virus and knowing how to live with the virus will make us responsible on how not to get the infection by following the health protocols,' Solante said.


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