‘Don’t ignore nCoV transmission through eyes’

Signage advising passengers for self-reporting and other precautions displayed at Mumbai International airport in view of the coronavirus (CoV) outbreak.

Signage advising passengers for self-reporting and other precautions displayed at Mumbai International airport in view of the coronavirus (CoV) outbreak.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Indian ophthalmology body issues alert to shield mouth, nose and eyes

Ophthalmologists have warned that the possibility of novel coronavirus (nCoV) being transmitted through the eyes should not be ignored.

In a Lancet article published on February 6, medical experts from The First Hospital of Jilin University in China have said infectious droplets and body fluids can easily contaminate the human conjunctival epithelium. While the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) issued an alert for its members last month, the All India Ophthalmological Society (AIOS) circulated an alert to its 22,000 members on February 3, advising them to protect the mouth, nose and eyes when caring for patients.

In the Lancet article, Cheng-wei Lu and Xiu-fen Liu from the department of ophthalmology and Zhi-fang Jia from the division of clinical research of university have cited the case of Guangfa Wang, a member of the national expert panel on pneumonia, who contracted nCoV despite wearing an N95 mask. They said Mr. Wang did not wear anything to protect his eyes.

“Several days before the onset of pneumonia, Wang complained of redness of the eyes. Unprotected exposure of the eyes to 2019-nCoV in the Wuhan Fever Clinic might have allowed the virus to infect the body,” the article said. It said respiratory viruses are capable of inducing ocular complications in infected patients, leading to respiratory infection.

According to eye surgeon Dr. S. Natarajan, president of the AIOS who sent out the ‘member alert’, the fluid in the eye is secreted from the body and can carry the virus. Dr. Natarajan’s alert was drafted on the lines of the AAO, highlighting the possibility of conjunctivitis caused by the infection, and of transmission through aerosol contact with the conjunctiva.

Dr. Ragini Parekh, who heads the ophthalmology department at the State-run JJ Hospital, said fluids and secretion from the eyes contain viral elements which are commonly transferred to surfaces and objects termed as fomites (materials that are likely to carry infection). “One should therefore avoid touching the face, and hand hygiene is the most essential,” she said.

Medical experts say there is a lot unknown about this new version of coronavirus. “Transmission of a virus through the mucous membrane is possible and viral infections through the eyes have been documented. But we don’t know to what extent is it possible with nCoV,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Om Shrivastav said.

Incidentally, Li Wenliang, the whistleblower who warned about the new virus, was also an ophthalmologist. He died due to the infection on February 7.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 12:12:19 AM |

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