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Coronavirus can be caught from the eyes and tears of some infected patients, a team of doctors in China reported Tuesday in JAMA Ophthamology, a monthly medical journal.

The purpose of the research was to investigate whether coronavirus manifested in the eyes in people who developed COVID-19. For this purpose, Dr. Ping Wu of the Yichang Central People’s Hospital and colleagues report in JAMA how they checked for ocular manifestations and symptoms in the conjunctiva (the inner tissue of the eyelids and the tissue covering the white of the eyes) in COVID-19 patients treated between February 9 to 15 at a hospital center in Hubei province, where the virus first arose.

It is true that their study was a very small one, involving just 38 patients, but the results were striking.  Only two yielded positive findings for the virus causing the disease, SARS-CoV-2, in their conjunctiva – but a third of the group, 12 patients, had developed conjunctivitis eye infection.

Among these 12 patients, four were in moderate condition, two were in severe condition and six were judged to be critical. The more severe their condition, the more likely they were to develop the associated eye infection, the doctors report. Commensurately, the research found discovered that the COVID-19 patients with conjunctivitis had higher white blood cells counts than patients without ocular manifestations.

In one case, the patient experienced watery eyes and conjunctivitis as the first symptom of infection with coronavirus. None experienced blurred vision, the doctors add.

The previous attack of a novel coronavirus, due the quickly contained SARS epidemic (caused by SARS-CoV-1), did not produce evidence that SARS-CoV-1 replication results in conjunctivitis or other eye disease. But then and now, the conventional wisdom in medical circles had been that the eye was a potential site for virus transmission, and now it seems to have been proven. Read more

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