Good News:  COVID-19 and the Eye

A recent article by Rajendra Apte MD shows that the SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection, does not penetrate the cornea.  The author, Dr. Apte, is a Professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri and a former classmate of Sidney Gicheru (Medical Director, LaserCare Eye Center).  Dr. Apte’s work showed no evidence of SARS-COV-1 replication in donor corneas that were inoculated with the virus.  So even though the cornea and conjunctiva have receptors for the virus, the coronavirus does not seem to penetrate the cornea or replicate in it.

Does this mean eye protection is not required in this era of COVID-19?  Absolutely not.  The study does not prove the virus is unable to penetrate other tissues in the eye. But, it does help us understand that the Cornea is likely not a viable route for infection.  The eye does have mucus membranes, similar to the nasal cavity, that can transmit the virus.  Thus, until we have more research data, eye protection is still recommended when the risk of COVID-19 transmission is high. Similarly, masking is strongly recommended.
The study also looked at 2 other common viruses HSV-1 (the Herpes virus) and ZIKV (Zika virus), both of which were able to penetrate and replicate in the cornea.