The coronavirus can persist in the eyes for weeks, according to a recently published case report.
Researchers at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Italy discovered that the virus persisted in the eyes of a 65-year-old woman for 21 days after she developed her first symptoms.
There have been reports of people with pink eyes with coronavirus around the world – but the number of patients affected by the symptom remains quite low.
Although the coronavirus is mainly spread from person to person via droplets of saliva and mucus from coughing and sneezing (and perhaps speaking and breathing), the new study highlights why avoid touching your face and eyes is crucial to stop the spread of the disease.
Pink eye can be an early warning sign for coronavirus – and tears and eye mucus from infected people can transmit the virus for weeks after symptoms appear, suggests new woman case study Italy (file)
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, can be caused by many bacteria and viruses, although these are more common.
And this is often accompanied by respiratory infections.
In the United States, the pink eye first became a coronavirus problem after a nurse at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington – where a devastating epidemic sickened more than 80 residents and 34 members of the staff and killed 35 people – revealed that almost every COVID – 19 patient she treated there had red eyes.
Perhaps most worrisome, she said that many of these patients showed no other signs of disease, but were ultimately confirmed to have a coronavirus.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CORONAVIRUS?
Like other coronaviruses, including those that cause the common cold and that triggered SARS, COVID-19 is a respiratory disease.
- The most common symptoms are:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
Although a runny nose does not rule out coronavirus, it does not seem to be a main symptom so far.
Most people only become slightly ill, but the infection can become serious and even fatal, especially for those who are older or have underlying health conditions.
In these cases, patients develop pneumonia, which can cause:
- Potentially with yellow, green or bloody mucus
- Trembling fever, sweating, and chills
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Pain when breathing, especially when breathing deeply or coughing
- Low appetite, energy and fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting (more common in children)
- Confusion (more common in the elderly)
- Some patients have also reported diarrhea and kidney failure has sometimes been a complication.
Avoid people with these symptoms. If you develop them, call your health care provider before you go to the hospital or doctor, so they and you can prepare to minimize possible exposure if they suspect you have coronavirus.
Red eyes are still not listed by the CDC as a symptom of coronavirus, but it is a phenomenon that has been noted by health authorities in many countries.
Studies have shown that the eyes are one of the parts of the body that can be attacked by the virus.
However, this seems to be a relatively rare event.
In a study of more than 1,000 Chinese coronavirus patients, only nine developed eye infections (representing less than one percent of the group), according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Only one in 30 patients in another study developed conjunctivitis.
This may not be common, but the eye symptom can certainly be persistent, according to the new case report on this patient in 30, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The patient had traveled from Wuhan, China, where the pandemic started in December, to Italy on January 23.
Five days after arriving in Italy and only one day after the onset of her symptoms, the woman was sick enough to be admitted to hospital.
In addition to the red, infected eyes, the woman had a dry cough, sore throat and nasal congestion, but only developed a fever several days later.
On the third day after her admission to the hospital, the woman’s eyes were still red, so the team began to dab her eyes.
Health workers continued to collect eye fluid almost every day after that. Each sample revealed the RNA – genetic material – of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19.
Finally, on the 21st day after arriving at the hospital, the virus disappeared from the woman’s eye fluid – only to reappear five days later.
The coronavirus still persisted in his eyes even days after his nasal swabs were cleared of his genetic material.
Staff at the LifeCare Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington (photo), noted that many of the seniors who contracted the virus developed red eyes.
This suggested to researchers that the virus continues to make more copies of itself in the woman’s eye fluid.
Not only does this pose a problem for a woman’s ability to clear the virus, but it means that mucus and even tears from her eyes may be able to infect others, a phenomenon seen in patients with SARS.
“A related implication is the importance of proper use of personal protective equipment for ophthalmologists during the clinical examination, as the ocular mucosa can be not only a site of entry of virus but also a source of contagion “Wrote the study authors.
Perhaps most importantly, they warned that the pink eye may be an early warning sign of the coronavirus, since the symptom appeared a few days before the patient had a fever.