Coronavirus and Your Eyes | Part 12019-nCoV is the name of the novel CoronaVirus spreading across the globe.  It was initially described in December 2019 causing illness in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.

Because this is a newly discovered virus causing a unique illness, there are many questions about its behaviour including infectivity, severity and transmission.  As of this writing, many questions about the virus and disease are unanswered.

This article is a result of publishings from the American Optometric Association, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

This is part 1 or a 2 part series.

Read Part 2:  Transmission and Prevention

What is a Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses were first discovered in the 1960s and usually cause mild respiratory illness similar to a cold or the flu.

On the other hand, the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreaks were both caused by coronaviruses, MERS coronavirus and SARS CoV-1 respectively.

2019-nCoV (aka SARS CoV-2) is the seventh coronavirus identified and, unfortunately, appears to be at least as lethal as MERS and SARS CoV-1.

There are now 7 known coronaviruses.

Four viruses cause mild disease: HKU1, NL63, OC43 and 229E.

Three can cause deadly disease: SARS CoV-1, MERS, and SARS-CoV-2.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, that is they are known to have the capability of infecting both humans and animals.  For example, the MERS virus was transmitted by dromedary camels whereas the SARS virus was transmitted through civet cats.

At present, the origin of the SARS CoV-1 and SARS CoV-2 viruses is from bats based on recent comparisons of viral DNA.

Symptoms of COVID-19

All coronaviruses seem to cause varying degrees of respiratory illness.  The official name of the disease caused by SARS CoV-2 (aka 2019-nCoV) is COVID-19.

2019-nCoV causes COVID-19.

Symptoms of all coronaviruses are similar, but with varying degrees of severity.  Coronaviruses cause:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Malaise
  • Shortness of breath

In more severe cases, such as COVID-19, pneumonia and bronchitis can occur.   The elderly, young and patients with compromised cardiovascular health may be at greater risk of severe infection, but there may be other factors at play.

Eye Disease and CoronaVirus

Anecdotal reports suggest the virus may cause conjunctivitis.  Symptoms of conjunctivitis include: redness, watery discharge/tearing and sensitivity to light.  Conjunctivitis typically does not cause severe pain or loss of vision.

Conjunctivitis can be caused by many irritants and infections (smoke, allergy, bacterial infection, viral “pink eye”) and are usually self-limited.  There are no reports of actual damage to the eyes or vision, but health officials are concerned that the disease may be transmitted through contaminated tears or gain entry to the body through the eyes.

This is the end of Part 1.
Read Part 2:  Transmission and Prevention