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Coronavirus: How Eyes May Play a Role In Its Spread

Our eyes may play an important role in the spread and prevention of the new coronavirus outbreak seen throughout the world, eye doctors and health experts say.

To cut your personal risk of contracting the new coronavirus, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. It is the mucous membranes (membranes that line various cavities in the body) that are most susceptible to transmission of the virus.

Face masks can reduce the spread of coronavirus by people who have no symptoms of the virus. Face masks, however, do not protect your eyes.

How is the new coronavirus related to your eyes?

The relationship between the transmission of the coronavirus and your eyes is complicated. It’s thought that coronavirus spreads from person to person mainly through airborne “respiratory droplets” produced when someone coughs or sneezes, much like the flu virus spreads, the CDC says. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, and possibly be inhaled into the lungs.


These droplets also can be spread to your eyes when you touch your face and then your eyes with unwashed hands.

This is why the CDC and World Health Organization recommend diligently washing your hands for 20 seconds or more with warm water and soap.

Doctor believes he contracted COVID through his eyes

Peking University respiratory specialist Wang Guangfa believes he contracted COVID-19 while not wearing eye protection when he treated patients at health clinics in China.

Wang reported that his left eye became inflamed afterward, followed by a fever and a buildup of mucous in his nose and throat. He subsequently was diagnosed with the new coronavirus.

According to the South China Morning Post, Wang thinks the virus entered his left eye because he wasn’t wearing protective eyewear.

Dr. Jan Evans Patterson, professor of medicine and pathology in the Long School of Medicine’s infectious diseases division at UT Health San Antonio, confirms that a scenario like Wang’s could potentially happen.

In Wang’s situation, she says, respiratory droplets from an infected person might have reached his eyes or other mucous membranes.

Coronavirus and conjunctivitis

Patients who have contracted the new coronavirus may have ocular symptoms. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the membrane covering the eyeball. It is often referred to as “pink eye.” Conjunctivitis often presents as an infected, red, “wet and weepy” eye.

Viral conjunctivitis is known to present with upper respiratory infections (colds, flus, etc.) and may be a symptom of the COVID-19 virus. A recent study of hospitals across China, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found “conjunctival congestion” or red, infected eyes in nine of 1,099 patients (0.8%) with a confirmed diagnosis of coronavirus.

A study in The Journal of Medical Virology of 30 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 had only one patient diagnosed with conjunctivitis. Based on this information, the occurrence of conjunctivitis is low.

Furthermore, the risk of transmission of the new coronavirus through tears is low, according to a new study published in Ophthalmology. Researchers tested tear samples collected from patients with COVID-19 in Singapore.

This post originally appeared on All About Vision.


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