A recent research on ophthalmology detected no signs of SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19-responsible virus, in 64 tear samples from 17 COVID-19 patients in Singapore, suggesting a low risk of tear spread by virus. Experts continue to appeal for vigilance and the use of protective eyewear, particularly among practicing ophthalmologists, as larger studies are still required to examine COVID-19 patients with ocular symptoms.
Two organisations issued appeals in the British Journal of Ophthalmology and The Lancet last month, calling on healthcare staff not to disregard the potential for SARS-CoV-2 transmission through tears. This risk remains difficult to determine, owing in part to the unusual ocular symptoms. Of 1,099 COVID-19 patients in China, only nine (0.8 per cent) had conjunctival consumption, better known as pink or red eye. While the tears have tested negative, further research should be carried out involving patients with eye symptoms.
Although the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission through tears is currently considered small, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is currently recommending that ophthalmologists postpone all non-emergent treatments promptly, and that strong infection prevention steps, including the use of breath shields and slit-lamp barriers, should be enforced. A particular challenge that ophthalmology faces is that several examinations happens in in very close face-to-face proximity. When gathering and treating laboratory specimens from patients with suspected COVID-19, the World Health Organization advises that healthcare staff should wear eye protection, such as goggles or a face shield.