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Are Eyes A Route To COVID-19 Infection? AIIMS To Conduct Study To Ascertain The Possibility

New Delhi: A Lancet study conducted earlier this year revealed that the eyes may be a possible route for the SARS-CoV-2 transmission. While the evidence noted it is unlikely that people can contract this infection through the eye, researchers believe that direct contact with the mucous membranes of the eye is the most likely route of transmission.

Therefore, a person may acquire an eye infection with SARS-CoV-2 if they touch a contaminated surface and then touch their eye. It is also possible for SARS-CoV-2 to enter the eye through airborne droplets following a cough or sneeze from a person carrying the virus.

The RP Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in the capital, is now conducting a study to ascertain the presence of the coronavirus in various parts of the eye of those who have died due to the infection, the centre’s chief Dr J S Titiyal said on Tuesday.

Addressing a press conference on the 36th Eye Donation Fortnight celebration by the National Eye Bank (NEB), he said that five eyeballs have been collected for carrying out the study.

“The research study will help ascertain the presence of the coronavirus in the cornea, optic nerve and retina of COVID-19 infected deceased,” Titiyal was quoted as saying by PTI.

“These eyeballs will be subjected to various molecular tests to detect the presence of the Covid virus in these tissues and also look for genetic evidence,” he said.

Dr Namrata Sharma of the RP Centre said that there is no proven evidence so far that establishes any direct link between COVID-19 leading to blindness.

Because of COVID-19, cases of conjunctivitis have been reported but that does not lead to vision loss.

COVID-19 leads to mucormycosis and there have been cases where it has impacted vision and lead to blindness, she said.

“There have been isolated cases of retinal and Venus blocks which may lead to a sudden diminishing of vision due to thromboembolism . But there has been no proven cause and effect relationship between them so far,” Sharma was quoted as saying.

Tissue retrieval is performed only from presumed COVID-19 negative donors, according to established eye banking guidelines, she said.

“To ensure maximum safety we perform a post-mortem nasopharyngeal swab RT-PCR testing for all our potential donors. Of the tissues retrieved by us between July 2020 and July 2021, we found that 5.5 per cent of the presumed COVID-19 negative donors tested RT-PCR positive for SARS-CoV2,” Sharma said.

The tissues from these donors were not used for corneal transplantation and were subjected to further microbiological analysis, she said.