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A Spanish member of parliament touches his eye with his wrist. Photo: EPA

The eyes have it: conjunctivitis could be an overlooked Covid-19 symptom

  • Eyes can be an entry point for the coronavirus to infect a person, as well as the nose and mouth
  • Cough, fever and shortness of breath are common symptoms

Eye doctors are warning that conjunctivitis, or pink eye, could be a symptom of Covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes.

On March 31, the American Academy of Ophthalmology shared a notice that a mild case of pink eye could signal a person has Covid-19, after two recent studies and an anecdotal report suggested the condition was a symptom.

One study, published in the Journal of Virology, looked at 30 Covid-19 patients in China and found one patient had pink eye, while the other 29 had the coronavirus present in their eye secretions.

The other study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that 9 out of 1,099 patients who tested positive for Covid-19 in a lab had pink eye.

Eyes can be an entry point for the coronavirus to infect a person, as well as the nose and mouth, which is why the CDC has warned people against touching these areas without first washing their hands properly.

Additionally, some eye doctors are suggesting contact lens wearers switch to glasses for the time being to prevent unnecessary touching of the eyes.

The Academy also pointed to the case of a care home nurse in Washington, who, as CNN reported, saw that many of her elderly patients who were diagnosed with Covid-19 had a red eye as an early symptom.

As such, the Academy said, eye doctors should be looking out for Covid-19 symptoms, such as a cough, a fever, and shortness of breath, in patients who come to their offices with pink eye.

Doctors should also use proper medical gear to protect their eyes, nose, and mouth from coronavirus transmission when seeing patients for eye health appointments, and use bleach and alcohol disinfectants on surfaces and equipment between every patient, the Academy said.

These findings are preliminary, however, and the doctors who published the notice said pink eye is a rare symptom compared to other symptoms like a dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath.