Experts say you can get infected with COVID through the eyes. Can goggles really help? 2
For better protection, wear safety goggles if you’re caring for a sick patient or a person potentially exposed to COVID. Photo from Freepik

Experts say you can get infected with COVID through the eyes. Can goggles really help?

A study by doctors from the University of Hong Kong highlights that the eyes may be an important route of the novel coronavirus infection. By RHIA GRANA
ANCX | Jul 21 2020

Wearing a face mask is slowly becoming like second nature to us Pinoys. A survey conducted by London-based data analysis group YouGov, in partnership with Institute of Global Health Innovation, reveals that the Philippines is the second country with the highest percentage of citizens who always wear masks when they go out of their homes. Ninety-one percent of Filipinos surveyed from June 22-28 said they follow the mask-wearing protocol when outdoors—which means we’re second to Singapore who has over 94% of its population claiming they always wear a mask outdoors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had noted in previous advisories that the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person, through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The World Health Organization (WHO) had also acknowledged the recent findings of scientists that the virus could possibly be airborne.

However, a study by experts from the University of Hong Kong suggests we should put as much care in protecting our eyes, as much as we do our nose and mouth.

The research of Dr. Michael Chan Chi-wai, Associate Professor of the School of Public Health, and his HKUMed team provides evidence that COVID-19 (or SARS-CoV-2) is much more efficient in infecting the human conjunctiva (the cells lining the surface of the eye) and the upper respiratory airways than SARS (or SARS-CoV).

The study also indicates that the level of infection of COVID-19 is comparable to what is observed in the 2009 pandemic H1N1.

Taken together, this explains the higher transmissibility of the novel pandemic SARS-CoV-2 than that of SARS-CoV. “This study also highlights the fact that eyes may be an important route of SARS-CoV-2 human infection,” stressed Dr. Chan.

The study pointed out that there is a possibility that the infectious virus can be spread from contaminated surfaces by hands, when a person touches the surfaces and rubs his/her eyes afterwards.

Hence, it is vital to avoid touching the eyes when in public areas, and to regularly wash hands with soap and water or clean hands with alcohol hand rub to prevent the accidental transfer of SARS-CoV-2 from contaminated surfaces to human eyes and noses.

In its website, the American Academy of Ophthalmology provided safety measures on eye care during the COVID pandemic.

The Academy advises those who wear contact lenses to switch to glasses for a while, as contact lens wearers tend to touch their eyes more than an average person. “Substituting glasses for lenses can reduce eye irritation, and they may be a barrier that reminds you not to touch your eye. If you must wear contacts, be sure to clean and disinfect them exactly as your eye doctor recommends,” the eye experts noted in its guidelines.

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“Corrective lenses or sunglasses can shield your eyes from infected respiratory droplets, but keep in mind that they don’t provide 100% security,” the experts cautioned. “The virus can still reach your eyes from the open sides, tops and bottoms of your glasses. For better protection, you must use safety goggles if you’re caring for a sick patient or potentially exposed person.”

To lower your risk of infection, avoid rubbing your eyes. “If you feel an urge to itch or rub your eye or even to adjust your glasses, use a tissue instead of your fingers. Dry eyes can lead to more rubbing, so consider adding moisturizing drops to your eye routine. If you must touch your eyes for any reason—even to administer eye medicine—wash your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Then wash them again after touching your eyes.”