While researchers are confident that the coronavirus spreads through mucus and droplets of saliva expelled by coughing or sneezing, it is unclear whether the virus is spread through other bodily fluids, such as tears.

In a study recently published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (at the end of the post you will find the link to the pdf document of the study) the evidence is shown that coronavirus-infected patients are unlikely to transmit the disease through their tears. In addition, the study includes another interesting fact: none of the patients who participated in the study had conjunctivitis, also known as red eye. Health specialists believe that pink eye occurs in only 1% to 3% of people with Covid 19. The study authors conclude that their findings, along with the low incidence of pink eye among infected patients, suggests that the risk of transmission of the virus through tears is low.

To conduct the study, Ivan Seah, MBBS, and colleagues at the National University Hospital of Singapore collected tear samples from 17 Covid-19 coronavirus patients from the time they showed symptoms until they recovered, roughly about 20 days after. Neither viral culture nor reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) they detected the coronavirus in their tears throughout the two weeks they were ill.

Dr. Seah also took samples from the nose and throat during the same time period. While the tears of the patients were free of coronavirus, their nose and throat if they contained the virus.

Despite this reassuring news, it is important for people to understand that protecting your eyes, as well as your hands and mouth, can slow the spread of respiratory viruses such as coronavirus, because:

  • When a sick person coughs or talks, virus particles can jump from the mouth or nose onto another person’s face. That person is likely to inhale these droplets through the mouth or nose, but they can also be contaminated via the eyes.
  • You can also become infected by touching something that has the virus on it, such as a table or a doorknob, and then touching your eyes.

More information: Coronavirus, useful information for vision professionals

Source: Assessing Viral Shedding and Infectivity of Tears in Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Patients. Ophthalmology, 2020

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