Eyes can be infected by COVID-19: 4 things to know

Cells in the eye can be directly infected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to findings published May 17 by ScienceDirect. 

Below are four things to know about COVID-19 infections of the eye:

1. Researchers exposed adult human eyes to SARS-CoV-2 in an in vitro stem cell model and then studied them after 24 hours. The virus is able to infect surface cells of the eye, the researchers found. Ocular surface cells, particularly the limbus, were particularly susceptible to infection, while the central cornea was less vulnerable.

2. Researchers are currently trying to determine if the virus can be spread through the eyes, Timothy Blenkinsop, PhD, study author and assistant professor of cell, developmental and regenerative biology at New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System, told Becker's. While aerosol transmission is thought to be the primary route of spread, viral particles detected in ocular fluid suggest the eye may be a vulnerable point of viral entry. However, scientists don't have evidence to back the theory up yet, in part because it is difficult to develop experiments where nasal infections don't complicate the results. 

3. To prevent the transmission of COVID-19, people in dense areas that aren't well ventilated would benefit from eye protection. Front-line providers should definitely have eye protection, Dr. Blenkinsop said, which is already fairly standard in the U.S.  

4. Other studies have found a significant number of patients with severe COVID-19 experience abnormal nodules of the eye. Three recent reports showed retinal findings, such as hemorrhages, cotton wool spots, dilated veins or tortuous vessels, are possibly tied to COVID-19.

 

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