Although COVID-19 was primarily considered as a respiratory infection, experts around the world have been recently evidencing cases that show the virus can infiltrate the eyes.
A group of physicians from China has recently encountered a case where “SARS-CoV-2 was identified from the infected ocular tissues of a patient in addition to the respiratory system”, according to the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.
In a recent case report, the scientists have presented findings based on a Chinese patient who developed an acute glaucoma attack soon after recovering from COVID-19. The doctors had to perform surgery to treat the condition, and tests of her eye tissue showed evidence of SARS-CoV-2.
The patient was a 64-year-old woman who was hospitalised for COVID-19 on Jan. 31. Eighteen days into treatment her symptoms had fully resolved, and throat swabs turned up negative for SARS-CoV-2.
However, about a week later she developed pain and vision loss in one eye, and then in her other eye a few days afterward, according to the report by Dr. Ying Yan and colleagues at the General Hospital of the Central Theater Command in Wuhan, China.
The patient had to come back to the hospital again, where she was diagnosed with acute angle-closure glaucoma and cataract. Since medication failed to bring down her eye pressure she had to undergo surgery in which eye tissue samples were collected. Tests of those samples turned up evidence that SARS-CoV-2 had invaded the eye tissues, Yan’s team reported.
While it is not clear how the virus got into the patient’s eyes, the experts underscored the importance of eye protection. The use of goggles and face shields especially among the health care providers; and regular hand-washing and keeping the hands away from the eyes are important to prevent acquiring the infection.
“It has been suspected that the eyes can be a source of both ‘in’ and ‘out'” for the novel coronavirus, said Dr Aaron Glatt, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
It is not possible to say whether the patient, in this case, contracted SARS-CoV-2 via her eyes, said Glatt. But there is a possibility that it could be through viral particles in the air or by touching her eyes with a virus-contaminated hand, he added.
According to Dr Grace Richter, an ophthalmologist at the University of Southern California’s Roski Eye Institute in Los Angeles, certain anatomical features of the eye can make some people vulnerable to acute angle-closure glaucoma, and it can also be triggered by medications.
At this point, limited eye problems have been seen due to COVID-19, with a small number of patients develop conjunctivitis, she added.
The physicians still do not know if any lingering virus in patients’ eye tissue will cause problems in future. “It’s too early to know what having this virus floating around in the eye means for ocular health,” said Dr Glatt.