Can the Omicron variant be transmitted through eyes?

Julie Topping

Published on December 6, 2021, 1:17 pm

Can the Omicron variant be transmitted through eyes?

The Omicron variant of coronavirus has brought the focus back on the importance of preventive measures to control the spread of the infection. Although there is no strong evidence at present, initial findings have indicated a relatively higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

In the backdrop of the above developments, WHO has been fast on its feet, wasting no time in declaring Omicron as a variant of concern. It has also come out with detailed guidelines on the preventive measures that need to be taken, both at collective and individual levels.

Nose and mouth are already well established as the most common mediums for the entry of coronavirus into the body. But, are the eyes also a possible medium through which the deadly coronavirus can find its way into our body and infect our internal respiratory organs? Read on to find out.

What Biology Says

We can always rely on the rationality that science brings to the table, especially at times like these when the mainstream and social media is being fed with a large amount of misinformation, fake news, half truths, or whatever you may call it.

For a virus such as coronavirus to cause infection to humans, it requires favourable cells. It is not that coronavirus can enter into our body through each and every cell, Only those cells which produce the key receptor (known as ACE2) for coronavirus will facilitate the entry. Coronavirus binds onto these receptors and through these cells, it transmits further into our bodies.

So, the question to be asked is whether the surface of the eye contains cells that produce the key receptor? Interestingly, researchers at John Hopkins found that the eye surface cells not only contain the ACE2 receptor but also TMPRSS2, an enzyme that further facilitates the entry of the virus into these cells.

Other Research Literature

Research has established that conjunctivita - the tissue which shields the white part of the eye - is known to be susceptible to other viruses. A research, on examining the tears and conjunctival swabs of infected COVID-19 patients, detected the presence of coronavirus in these samples.

A publication published in the renowned Lancet journal had highlighted a study conducted in India among the health workers. According to this study, the number of infections among the health workers were brought down to zero with the introduction of face shields into the safety kit. Until then, they were wearing just a three-layered surgical mask, which didn’t cover the eyes.

Final Conclusion

There is no doubt that the most likely route for coronavirus to find its way into our body is the passage of mouth and nose.

Although there is no solid evidence of transmission through eyes and research undertaken has produced mainly mixed results, eyes as a medium of passage of the coronavirus cannot be straightaway ruled out.

Can Eyeglasses Help?

Eyeglasses act as a mechanical blockade against all sorts of aerosols, droplets and dust particles suspended in the air. As coronavirus is largely known to be transmitted through respiratory droplets, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has suggested that glasses might block these.

Eyeglasses also limit the need for us to touch or rub our eyes, when something enters into it, further cutting down the possibility of transmission.

It has to be noted that there is still an open route available for the virus to move into the eyes through the open spaces of your normal eyeglasses. However, something is better than nothing. When in proximity to infected individuals or at other high risk zones, safety goggles which cover the eyes from all sides, are a viable option. Also, it is important that you wash and clean your eyeglasses frequently.

Keep your glasses safe

Another important aspect is the need for you to keep your eyeglasses clean of all the particles that may have been deposited on it, as it may also consist of respiratory droplets of infected persons.

To keep your glasses healthy, use a disinfectant to clean your glasses and wipe it off with a soft cloth, which is specifically designed to clean glasses. Perform this action every time you put on and take them off. Also, avoid touching your glasses with your bare hands for unnecessary reasons.

Looking at the bigger picture, we have to understand that eyeglasses are not only a barrier against the coronavirus, but also against other viruses and particles that are proven to cause infections, to or through the eyes. Therefore, it can go a long way to keep you healthy.

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