It would seem as though with each passing day, the world is exposed to yet another new facet of this global pandemic that is sweeping through countries and causing worldwide devastation. In the latest news regarding this invisible enemy that is suddenly everyone’s problem, it has been reported that Conjunctivitis—more commonly known as ‘pink eye’—is among one of the rare coronavirus symptoms that we are gradually learning about.
According to a study published on March 31 in the online medical journal JAMA Ophthalmology, it has been reported that of the focus group of 38 patients observed, who was hospitalised in Hubei province, China, and who all tested positive for COVID-19, Conjunctivitis was present in 12 (32%) and it was most evident and severe in the sickest patients—the more severe a patient’s infection is, the more likely it is that he or she will also have pink eye.
Conjunctivitis is one of the rare coronavirus symptoms. Photo: iStock
Rare coronavirus symptoms
Conjunctivitis: ‘Pink Eye’
According to Dr Alfred Sommer, a professor of epidemiology and international health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, who published a column that accompanied the study, “this is a warning to people that the conjunctiva can be a source of infection that might spread to others.” The conjunctiva is a thin, transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner eyelid and covers part of the white of the eye.
Simply put, COVID-19 has the ability to spread via bodily fluids in the form of people’s tears, and can also spread by “a doctor examining your eye, or even someone rubbing their eye, getting coronavirus on their fingers and then touching someone else”, Sommer noted.
He further called for any routine eye exams to be postponed until the pandemic situation stabilises, with the exception of emergencies that can affect the vision and that would need urgent treatment.
“People can wait a month or two to have a routine eye examination,” Sommer said, adding: “You can get a new pair of spectacles prescribed anytime, you don’t have to do that in the middle of an epidemic.”
The infection can also spread by a doctor examining your eye. Photo: iStock
Coronavirus symptoms: Eyes now an entry point for COVID-19 pathogens
This is especially important for us to practise in order to avoid creating another potential route of transmission, as the eyes are now considered an entry point for the coronavirus to infect a person, in addition to previously known points such as the nose and mouth.
The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned people against specifically touching their eyes without first washing their hands properly, with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
Contact lens wearers are also being asked to switch to glasses for the time being to prevent unnecessary touching of the eyes.
Switch over to glasses if you wear contact lenses in order to avoid touching your eyes unnecessarily. Photo: iStock
These findings are preliminary, however, and the doctors who published the study noted that pink eye is a rare symptom compared to other symptoms like a dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath.
One ophthalmologist at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, Dr Prachi Dua, noted that in present times any sign of conjunctivitis, including redness of the eyes, swelling and tearing, should be looked at immediately in order to facilitate proper diagnosis and prevention of further spread and transmission.
“Although conjunctivitis is a rare manifestation of this disease, we should take all the necessary precautions to prevent conjunctivitis, including frequent hand-washing,” said.
“Patients and clinicians should be aware that COVID-19 can manifest with ocular redness, swelling and tearing,” she added. “These patients should seek appropriate care for proper diagnosis and prevention of transmission.”