Coronavirus can linger in the eyes long after it has cleared from the nose, according to a new case report which sheds further light on possible symptoms.
Italian scientists say the country’s first Covid-19 patient had virus particles in her eyes 27 days after she was admitted to hospital.
Researchers at the National Institute for Infectious Diseases are concerned the infection can make copies of itself in the eyes, after it disappeared only to return days later.
The report, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, highlights the importance of personal protective equipment with eye mucus and tears being a possible source of infection. It also warns pink eye could be an early sign of Covid-19, as it developed before the patient’s other symptoms
The 65-year-old woman, who fell ill after returning to Rome from Wuhan on January 23rd, was admitted to hospital after coming down with a dry cough, sore throat and conjunctivitis. Later, she developed a fever, nausea and vomiting.
Noticing the woman’s red eyes, doctors took swabs and discovered she had RNA, or genetic material, from coronavirus. This lingered up until the 21st day, when the virus disappeared from her eye fluid, only to return six days later.
Coronavirus was detected in her eyes on day 27, even after her nasal swabs were clear. That suggested to the researchers that the virus was continuing to make more copies of itself within the woman’s eye fluid.
‘These findings highlight the importance of control measures, such as avoiding touching the nose, mouth, and eyes and frequent hand washing’, the report said.
It also warned eye doctors to exercise caution during clinical exams, as the eyes could both be an entrance to the virus and a source of spread. Authors said their research suggested eye infections can occur early on in Covid-19, meaning ‘measures to prevent transmission via this route must be implemented as early as possible’.
Reports have emerged of people getting pink eye with coronavirus across the globe, but the number of patients affected by the symptom appears to remain quite low.
A US nurse said almost every patient she treated at the Life Care Center nursing home in Washington – where an outbreak infected over 80 people and killed 35 – had red eyes.
Studies in China have found that the eyes are one of the parts of the body that can be attacked by the virus, although research indicated this was not common. The NHS and the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not list red eyes as a sign of coronavirus.