Covid-19 can reach and affect the eyes, two new studies have found. One study, in the US, has reported the discovery of the novel coronavirus in conjunctival swabs and tears of infected patients, raising concerns that the infection could be transmitted during eye transplantation. In the UK, researchers have reported sore eyes as a symptom of Covid-19. The two studies are independent of each other.
Virus in eye tissue
The US study, published in ‘The Ocular Surface’, analysed the prevalence of the virus in human postmortem ocular tissues. It found that the virus can infiltrate corneal tissue (the outer layer of the eye) that could be used for transplantation, raising concerns that the disease could be transmitted to a healthy recipient. In fact, the research looked at 132 ocular tissues from 33 donors that were intended for surgery in several US states. Among the donors, 13% were positive for Covid-19, determined later.
Covid-19 patients hold much of the virus in the upper respiratory tract. The researchers suggest that there is a strong possibility that the virus could contaminate the outer layers of the eye via respiratory droplets after coughing, sneezing or hand-to-eye contact. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
About the possibility of transmission via transplantation, lead researcher Shahzad Mian said in a statement: “There’s no evidence to suggest Covid-19 can be transmitted from a corneal transplant, but our data assures us that a screening process to determine who’s positive for the virus and who isn’t is important to make sure we do everything in case there is a potential risk of transmission.
The findings show that before transplantation, it is important to carry out postmortem nasopharyngeal swab testing for detecting Covid-19.
Sore eyes as symptom
The UK study, published in the journal ‘BMJ Open Ophthalmology’, was conducted by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University. It found that sore eyes can be a symptom of Covid-19.
The researchers asked Covid-19 patients to complete a questionnaire about their symptoms, and how those compared to before they tested positive. Sore eyes was found to be significantly more common when the participants had Covid-19 — 16% reported it as a Covid-19 symptom, while just 5% reported having had the condition beforehand.
Of the 83 respondents, 81% reported eye issues within two weeks of other Covid-19 symptoms. Of those, 80% reported their eye problems lasted less than two weeks.
Lead author Shahina Pardhan said in a statement released by Anglia Ruskin University: “While it is important that ocular symptoms are included in the list of possible Covid-19 symptoms, we argue that sore eyes should replace ‘conjunctivitis’ as it is important to differentiate from symptoms of other types of infections… This study is important because it helps us understand more about how Covid-19 can infect the conjunctiva and how this then allows the virus to spread through the body.”
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