A new study from one of the earliest patients of COVID-19 suggests that the virus lingers in her eye longer than in her nose. According to a research letter published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the 65-year old Italian woman had traveled from Wuhan - the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic- to Italy on January 29.
This supports the common wisdom of following the methods of preventing the virus that is tried-and-tested already. Washing your hands and avoiding touching your face is important to prevent you from catching the disease.
Alive and replicating for up to 20 days
The case of the infected patient in Italy having coronavirus detected in her eyes might give people who are not paying attention to hand washing and not touching the face a wakeup call to follow these practices.
The patient was subjected to an additional eye swab that showed that the virus is replicating, which means that the traces of coronavirus found in her eye could be contagious.
Apparently, the virus was able to be detected in the patient's eye for up to 20 days. Which at that point seemed to go away, but unfortunately, it reappeared a week later.
The researchers noted that the human-to-human transmission of the virus usually occurs through respiratory droplets. But since SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in several fluids, other routes are still under investigation, such as the eyes.
They added, that ocular fluids from COVID-19 patients may contain infectious virus, which suggests that they could be a potential source of infection. Their research highlights the importance of control measures such as frequent hand washing, and avoiding touching the nose, mouth, and eyes.
Additionally, it also emphasizes again the importance of opticians to wear personal protective equipment when examining patients. The mucous membrane of the eye can be an entry site for viruses and a means of transmission for the virus.
Researchers should try to know the eye cells that enable the coronavirus to replicate.
Conjunctivitis: A common symptom among COVID-19 patients
The woman in the study was taken into isolation at Italy's Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases hospital in Rome. She reported symptoms typical of an infected coronavirus patient, such as dry cough, sore throat, inflamed nasal cavity, and conjunctivitis in both eyes.
Occasionally, conjunctivitis has been reported among COVID-19 symptoms. It is similar to the infections caused by other coronaviruses that infected humans in the past. For example, in another member of the large coronavirus family from 2003, eyes fluids were linked with a higher chance of healthcare workers catching the virus that causes the SARS.
Researchers have cited the previous epidemic to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that the eye can also carry the coronavirus.
Conjunctivitis is common in those with upper respiratory illnesses, as explained by Dr. Joshua Barocas, an assistant professor of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine in an interview with Newsweek. That is because the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs are connected that viruses even the common ones can cause symptoms in those locations.
Barocas added that for the time being, evidences are not yet enough for scientists to say that conjunctivitis is completely consistent in COVID-19 infection. However, this could certainly be a symptom among the COVID-19 patients.