Coronavirus and ophthalmology

Medical content revised by - Last revision 23/03/2020
Coronavirus and ophthalmology

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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 have recently traveled to areas with active outbreaks 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 “SARS-CoV-2” was first detected in December 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan and causes a disease known as «COVID-19», which can lead to severe respiratory infections, among which pneumonia. Those affected experience symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, 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.

How can it be transmitted?

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the virus seems to spread through small respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, 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 to areas with known outbreaks, could be suspect 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 some antiviral drugs have shown some efficacy). However, there are many treatments to control the symptoms, so health care improves the prognosis.

What do you have to do to protect yourself?

According to the indications of the Spanish Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, to protect against possible coronavirus infections, generic protective measures against respiratory diseases must be followed:

  • Wash hands frequently (with soap and water or alcoholic solutions).
  • Avoid close contact with people who show signs of respiratory condition, such as coughing or sneezing.
  • Keep a distance of approximately one meter with people with symptoms of acute respiratory infection.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with tissues or cough or sneeze and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Seek medical attention if you have a fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Recommendations to ophthalmologists

Although conjunctivitis is not one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19, 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 areas with known outbreaks or has friends or family members who have recently returned from those areas.
  • Specialists must protect their mouth, nose and eyes adequately against the suspicion of a patient presenting this virus.

How can it affect my appointment with the ophthalmologist?

  • The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends postponing any non-urgent visit or surgery, so your visit to the ophthalmologist could be affected.
  • If your visit to the ophthalmologist is urgent and you have symptoms such as cough or fever, notify your centre in advance so that they take the appropriate protective measures and can provide you with a mask or gloves if necessary.

More information about the coronavirus

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