Can you get coronavirus through your eyes?
“So the question of transmission has definitely been asked,” says Dr. Deval Paranjpe, an ophthalmologist at the Allegheny Health Network.
Other viruses, such as the common cold virus, can get into the body when you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your face or eye.
“It’s like having a cold in the eye,” says Dr. Paranjpe. “There’s every reason to suspect the coronavirus could be transmitted the same way. This is why there’s such an emphasis on disinfecting things, don’t touch things, wash your hands all the time.”
Researchers wanted to see if the eyes would take in the coronavirus. So they compared specimens of the clear covering of the eye — called the conjunctiva — in 10 people who died of COVID-19 and in five people who had eye surgery and did not have coronavirus.
Turns out, all of the specimens had the ACE2 receptor — coronavirus’ doorway into cells — plus an enzyme that helps the virus enter.
“So if somebody were to breathe or cough on your eyes, yes, the virus could penetrate,” Dr. Paranjpe says.
Once the virus is in the eye, it could reach the nose and throat.
“They can go down this little pipe, which is located right here,” said Dr. Paranjpe, who points to the sides of the nose just under the corners of the eyes.
The pathology study supports that it is biologically possible but doesn’t show a definite means of infection.
However, a case series from Italy documents a handful of patients with conjunctivitis as the only sign of COVID-19.
Because of the potential, should you wear eye protection? Only if you have a job where you’re facing the public all the time.
“Face shields are one option. Goggles are another,” says Dr. Paranjpe.
But for the average citizen?
“Assuming that everyone is wearing a mask, the risk of transmission via the eye is pretty low,” Dr. Paranjpe.
And it hasn’t been worked out how much the virus would need to enter the eye to become infected.
“Is it possible you could get infected through the eye? Yes, it is possible. Is it likely? Probably not very likely. Should you be careful? Sure, you should be careful,” Dr. Paranjpe cautions.
Infection through the eyes would be a minor way of getting it.
The main mode of transmission is through respiratory droplets.