Coronavirus lingered in patient’s eyes for at least 20 days, researchers say

A coronavirus patient in Italy had traces of the infectious pathogen in her eyes — long after the illness had been cleared from her nose, according to researchers.

The 65-year-old patient, who was Italy’s first confirmed case, showed signs of conjunctivitis, or pink eye, after being admitted Jan. 23 to a hospital, according to a report in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

On the third day she was at the hospital, she submitted an eye swab which found detectable levels of viral particles, the researchers said.

She continued to receive eye swabs throughout her hospital stint that determined the virus had been replicating, indicating that her eyes could be contagious, the report said.

“We found that ocular fluids from SARS-CoV-2-infected patients may contain infectious virus, and hence may be a potential source of infection,” the authors wrote.

The virus remained detectable in her eyes until at least day 20, only to go away and reappear seven days later, researchers said.

Researchers noted that the virus was present in the patient’s eyes longer than it was through nasal swabs.

“SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in ocular swabs days after it was undetectable in nasal swabs,” the authors wrote.

“These findings highlight the importance of control measures, such as avoiding touching the nose, mouth, and eyes and frequent hand washing.”

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