The eyes are the windows to the body and in the case of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, the eyes may literally be the windows. Read on..

So what is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a common group of viruses that generally infect animals such as bats, cats and cattle. These animals may transmit the infection to humans. The novel coronavirus or COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan, China and has caused a large pandemic throughout the world.

Coronavirus-Covid-19

Figure1. COVID-19

What is the illness like?

COVID-19 causes an upper respiratory infection with runny nose, cough, fever and may progress to severe difficulty in breathing, pneumonia and even death.

How does the virus get transmitted to humans?

Humans may get infected from animals as explained before. The mechanism of human to human transmission is not clear but it may be due to droplet infection when a sick person coughs or sneezes. These droplets may enter the upper respiratory tract of the person in contact and cause infection. The virus is also known to survive on surfaces for hours and it may get transmitted through hands when a person touches his eyes, nose or mouth with contaminated fingers.

How is coronavirus related to eyes?

The novel Coronavirus may enter the eyes through the conjunctiva (a protective membrane that lines the outside of the eye) and cause conjunctivitis (pink eye) making the eye red, painful and watery. A recent report from China found 0.8% infected eyes in patients with confirmed coronavirus infection. People with coronavirus infection can spread the disease through their tears. If another person touches the tears or any surface where the tears have landed, it may cause spread of the virus. You can also become infected by touching contaminated surfaces like door-knobs and then touching your eyes. That’s why we said, the eyes may literally be the window!

Coronavirus-outbreak

Figure 2. Conjunctivitis

How is the transmission prevented?

Currently there is no coronavirus vaccine or treatment for coronavirus. Hence it is important to follow certain guidelines to prevent its spread:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water often. If there is no sink nearby, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  2. Practice social distancing
  3. Keep the surfaces clean and disinfect them with disinfectant solutions
  4. Do not touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth
  5. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. If you have used tissue paper, dispose it off safely and immediately.
  6. Stay home and don’t go out until absolutely necessary.
  7. Wear mask if you’re sick
  8. If you think someone is sick with a runny nose and fever, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet.

How to protect your eyes?

Since coronavirus may cause conjunctivitis and may even be transmitted through the eyes, it is important to take necessary precautions as follows:

  1. Do not rub your eyes
  2. If you’re a contact lens user, switch to glasses.
  3. If you’re caring for a sick person, wear safety goggles.
  4. If you’re using eye drops, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds, before instilling the drop.
Coronavirus-eye-protection

Figure 3. Avoid contact lenses, wear glasses.

Dr Abhilasha Baharani

Dr Abhilasha Baharani

DNB FRCS (Glasg) FICO Uvea & Cataract Specialist at Neoretina
Dr. Abhilasha Baharani is a specialist in Uveitis and Ocular inflammation. Her areas of expertise are Uveitis & Ocular Immunology- management of ocular tuberculosis, immunosuppressive therapy for non-infectious uveitis & scleritis, phacoemulsification in small pupil, complicated cataracts and ocular manifestations of systemic diseases. She studied MBBS at Kasturba Medical College Mangalore and DNB at Aravind Eye Hospital & Post-Graduate Institute of Ophthalmology, Tirunelveli. She did her fellowship in Uveitis & Ocular Inflammation at Aravind Eye Hospital & Post-Graduate Institute of Ophthalmology, Madurai and a second fellowship in Ocular Inflammatory Disease in Vitreoretinal Disorders at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, Dublin, Ireland where she became well-versed with newer immunosuppressive agents and use of biologic blockers. She is a member of the International Ocular Inflammation Society and is an active member of the state and national academic societies. She has received the Carl Herbort Award for her research paper at the Uveitis Society of India Annual Meeting in 2012 and Award of Distinction and Award of Merit for her research papers at the International Ophthalmology Congress- Innovations and Challenges in Glaucoma & Uveitis, Singapore, 2014.
Dr Abhilasha Baharani