Dr. Anthony Fauci sparked concern recently about COVID-19 infecting people through their eyes when he told ABC News, “If you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it. It’s not universally recommended, but if you really want to be complete, you should probably use it if you can.”
However, can you really get the COVID-19 virus through the eyes? Some other experts and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention say yes.
Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, told CNN that it’s possible to get COVID-19 through the eyes. “Yes, it’s in the air,” Steinemann told CNN. “Can it land on the eye? Of course.”
A study specifically looked at the susceptibility of the eyes to COVID-19. It’s called “CE2 and TMPRSS2 are expressed on the human ocular surface, suggesting susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection.” It was published in the Ocular Surface Journal.
The study found, “Conjunctival signs and symptoms are observed in a subset of patients with COVID-19, and SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in tears, raising concerns regarding the eye both as a portal of entry and carrier of the virus.”
The study’s results noted that “ocular surface cells including conjunctiva are susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2, and could therefore serve as a portal of entry as well as a reservoir for person-to-person transmission of this virus. This highlights the importance of safety practices including face masks and ocular contact precautions in preventing the spread of COVID-19 disease.”
According to WebMD, there’s scientific uncertainty about whether COVID-19 can invade the body through the eyes, though. “I don’t think we can answer that question with 100% confidence at this time,” H. Nida Sen, MD, director of the Uveitis Clinic at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, MD, told WebMD. She added: “I think it is biologically plausible.”
Here’s what you need to know:
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention Says Touching Your Eyes Could Result in COVID-19 Infection
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is possible to get COVID-19 by touching your eyes after touching an infected surface, but this is not believed to be the main way that coronavirus spreads.
“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about how this virus spreads,” CDC wrote.
“COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person. Some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus. We are still learning about how the virus spreads and the severity of illness it causes.”
The CDC says:
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.
Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.
Studies Have Found Evidence of Airborne Transmission of COVID-19
If COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air, it obviously would make it more likely that a person could get it through their eyes. Studies have found that airborne transmission of COVID-19 occurs.
A July 6 manuscript accepted for publication in Clinical Infectious Diseases is titled, “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19.” It’s written by Lidia Morawska and Donald Milton.
“Studies by the signatories and other scientists have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking, and coughing in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in air and pose a risk of exposure at distances beyond 1 to 2 m from an infected individual,” they wrote.
“For example, at typical indoor air velocities, a 5 μm droplet will travel tens of meters, much greater than the scale of a typical room, while settling from a height of 1.5 m to the floor. Several retrospective studies conducted after the SARS-CoV-1 epidemic demonstrated that airborne transmission was the most likely mechanism explaining the spatial pattern of infections.”