By Steven Reinberg
FRIDAY, Nov. 6, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that COVID-19 doesn't infect the eye's cornea.
Although viruses such as herpes simplex can infect the cornea and Zika has been found in corneal tissue and tears, this does not appear to be the case with COVID-19, according to researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
They said the cornea appears to resist infection from the novel coronavirus.
It's not clear, however, if other tissue in and around the cornea, such as the tear ducts and the conjunctiva (loose connective tissue that covers the eyeball), can be infected.
"Our findings do not prove that all corneas are resistant," said first author Dr. Jonathan Miner, an assistant professor of medicine.
"But every donor cornea we tested was resistant to the novel coronavirus. It's still possible a subset of people may have corneas that support growth of the virus, but none of the corneas we studied supported growth of SARS-CoV-2," he said in a university news release.
Co-author Dr. Rajendra Apte said some COVID-19 patients get eye symptoms such as pinkeye (conjunctivitis), but it could be related to secondary inflammation and not caused by the viral infection itself.
"The cornea and conjunctiva are known to have receptors for the novel coronavirus, but in our studies, we found that the virus did not replicate in the cornea," said Apte, a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences. "Our data suggest that the novel coronavirus does not seem to be able to penetrate the cornea."
But because of unknowns that involve the tear ducts and the conjunctiva, it's too soon to dismiss the importance of eye protection, the researchers said.
"It's important to respect what this virus is capable of and take appropriate precautions," Miner said. "We may learn that eye coverings are not necessary to protect against infection in the general community, but our studies really are just the beginning."
The findings were published online Nov. 3 in the journal Cell Reports.
For tips on protecting yourself from coronavirus, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, news release, Nov. 3, 2020