COVID-19 has been detected in the eyeballs of patients who have died from the illness, a new study says.
Researchers from the Center for Vision and Eye Banking Research in Eversight, Ohio, performed autopsies to evaluate the eye tissue of 10 people who tested positive for the virus after they died, according to a report this month on pre-print server medRxiv.
From the 20 eyes recovered from the group, researchers found evidence of genome of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, found a “small but noteworthy prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in ocular tissues from COVID-19 donors,” such as the posterior and anterior corneal, which are surface areas of the eyes.
The virus was also detected in the conjunctival, which is the tissue that lines the inside of the eyelids, and the vitreous, the gel-like fluid that fills the eye, researchers said.
Onkar B. Sawant, who was the lead author, said the research — which he believes to be the first of its kind — could help illuminate whether there’s a risk of the virus to ophthalmologists, as well as in eye tissue donation and cornea transplantation.
“Our primary motivator is to ensure safe tissue for our surgeons and their patients,” Sawant told Newsweek.
“Our secondary motivator is one that has driven the entire scientific community to conduct research around SARS-CoV-2: this is a novel virus and we are all eager to learn as much as we can about it to save and protect lives.”
Denize Atan, an ophthalmology expert from the University of Bristol, UK, said more research is needed about whether the virus can be transmitted from the eyes, but said the findings confirm its presence there.
“It does highlight the fact that the surface layers of the eye and tears are a possible route for transmission of the virus,” said Atan, who was not involved in the study.
“It is also possible that [the] virus could be transmitted from some of the tissues inside the eye.”