While the virus SARS-CoV-2, can lead to the severe respiratory disease commonly known as COVID-19, patients may be concerned about what impact this virus may have on other mucosal tissues, such as the eyes. Here is what you need to know:
- In a Journal of Medical Virology study of 30 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in China, 1 had conjunctivitis. That patient—and not the other 29—had SARS-CoV-2 in their ocular secretions. This suggests that SARS-CoV-2 can infect the conjunctiva and cause conjunctivitis, and virus particles are present in ocular secretions.
- In this larger study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers documented "conjunctival congestion" in 9 of 1,099 patients (0.8%) with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 from 30 hospitals across China. Source American Academy of Ophthalmology)
What this means is that pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is not likely to be the first sign for patients at risk of having SARS-CoV-2. If you have a new symptom of pink or red eye and have NOT traveled to one of the high risk regions recently (China, Italy, Iran, Japan and South Korea), been in contact someone who has, AND do not have related symptoms (fever; cough; shortness of breath) it is likely that your conjunctivitis is not related to COVID-19. You should contact your optometrist or ophthalmologist for appropriate care.
With March break approaching, the best way to limit potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure is to wash hands frequently when stuck in public areas such as airports or airplanes and avoid people who look like they’re sick. Make sure you bring your own medications and that your immunizations are up to date, so you don’t risk getting sick from something else and having to go to hospitals, which could increase the chance of transmission.