According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, anecdotal reports suggest that the new outbreak of coronavirus can cause conjunctivitis, and possibly be transmitted by aerosol contact with the conjunctiva. In this regard, they explain that patients who present to the ophthalmologist for conjunctivitis along with respiratory symptoms and have recently traveled to China or have relatives who have recently returned, could have the disease.
What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a broad family of viruses that normally affect only animals, although some of them can spread from animals to humans. They can produce anything from a common cold to more serious diseases.
The most recent type of coronavirus, called “2019-nCoV” or simply the “Wuhan coronavirus,” was first detected in December 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has been confirmed to cause severe respiratory infections, including pneumonia. Those affected experience symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath or conjunctivitis, which can appear between 2 and 14 days after being exposed to the virus. In addition, according to a paper published in The Lancet, patients can transmit the virus even before experiencing symptoms.
Although it seems that this new coronavirus is not as severe as SARS-CoV (which began in China in November 2002) or as lethal as MERS-CoV (detected in 2012 in Saudi Arabia), it has spread rapidly to other countries and there have already been a significant number of fatalities.
What you need to know
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the virus seems to spread through small respiratory drops, although it could also spread if people touch an object contaminated with the virus and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes. As explained by Dr. Ignasi Jürgens, medical director of ICR, some reports suggest that the virus can cause conjunctivitis and be transmitted by aerosol contact with the conjunctiva. Therefore, patients who go to the ophthalmologist for conjunctivitis and have respiratory symptoms, in addition to having traveled abroad, especially to China, could be suspected of having the virus.
As stated by the Spanish Ministry of Health on its website, there is no specific treatment for the new coronavirus, although there are many treatments to control its symptoms.
Recommendations to ophthalmologists
Although conjunctivitis is not one of the most common symptoms of 2019-nCoV, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has made a series of recommendations to ophthalmologists to act quickly and efficiently in the event that they are the first specialists to evaluate patients possibly infected. Some of these recommendations include:
- Checking if the patient also has respiratory symptoms.
- Ask the patient if he/she has travelled to China or if he/she has friends or family members who have recently returned from the country.
- Specialists must protect their mouth, nose and eyes adequately against the suspicion of a patient presenting this virus.