Study Shows Coronavirus Can Be Detected In Eyes For More Than 21 Days

27 Apr, 2020 F.J. Thomas


Sarasota, FL ( – A case study from the National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Italy and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests patients could harbor the virus much longer than expected. The finding could have big implications for protocols to prevent transmission, and effect ophthalmologists in particular.

On January 29th of this year, an un-named 65 year old female was admitted to a hospital one day after symptom onset. She had travelled from Wuhan, China to Italy, and arrived on January 23rd. Her symptoms included sore throat, non-productive cough, inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes, and bilateral conjunctivitis. It wasn’t until 4 days later that she presented with a fever of 100.4 at which time she became nauseated and started vomiting.

On the day of admission, the patient was tested and confirmed infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. No other respiratory viruses were detected.

Due to the persistent conjunctivitis still present by day 3, an ocular swab was done. Viral RNA was detected in the swab. Daily swab testing showed positive results for 21 days with declining virus concentrations.

Within 15 days, the patient’s conjunctivitis had improved greatly, and by day 20 it was completely resolved. Additionally, the ocular swabs showed no signs of the virus. However, 5 days after the ocular swabs showed no signs of the virus, SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected again at day 27. Additionally, this was days after the SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in the nasal swab. The levels suggested the virus showed sustained replication in conjunctiva, meaning that it was reproducing in the ocular fluid.

The researchers believe that the ocular fluids may contain infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus and therefore ocular fluid may be a strong source of infection, in addition to respiratory fluids. Additionally, they believe ocular involvement in a SARS-CoV-2 infection happens early on, which means that measures to prevent transmission would need to be implemented as early as possible.

The study could have huge implications in the development of protocols to prevent transmission, especially for ophthalmologists. While eye protection has been somewhat of a focus for frontline workers, it has not received a lot of emphasis for the rest of the population.


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    About The Author

    • F.J. Thomas

      F.J. Thomas has worked in healthcare business for more than fifteen years in Tennessee. Her experience as a contract appeals analyst has given her an intimate grasp of the inner workings of both the provider and insurance world. Knowing first hand that the industry is constantly changing, she strives to find resources and information you can use.

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