Covid-19 can spread even through tears, research finds

A recent study by Government Medical College, Amritsar found that tears of Covid-19 patients, whether they have an eye condition or not, have the potential to transmit the infection to other people.
A woman being too emotional
Happy or sad, crying is a great way to let go of stress! Image courtesy; Shutterstock
HT Correspondent Published: 16 Aug 2021, 12:00 pm IST
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While Coronavirus commonly spreads through mucus or droplets expelled by coughing or sneezing, a recent study by Government Medical College, Amritsar found that tears of Covid-19 patients, whether they have an eye condition or not, have the potential to transmit the infection to the other person.

“The risk of transmission (of the virus) through other routes such as fecal-oral and conjunctival secretions cannot be ignored,” said the study.

Here’s what the study has to say

The study focused on evaluating the presence of the deadly virus in tears of positive patients with and without ‘ocular manifestation’ or eye condition caused by Covid-19.

covid-19 and mental health
The neurological impact of Covid-19 is much more than you know. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

A similar study published in the latest edition of Indian Journal Ophthalmology says that Covid-19 can be present in tears with or without ocular involvement.

This puts the caregiver of a Covid patient and medical staff at increased risk of contracting the virus as coming into direct contact of tears or touching surface that might be infected by tears can pass on the virus.

“The first thing to understand is that Coronavirus can spread through the eyes — just as it does through the mouth or nose. When someone who has Coronavirus coughs or talks, the virus particles can spray from their mouth or nose into your face. You are likely to breathe in these tiny droplets. But the droplets can also enter your body through your eyes too. People who have Coronavirus can also spread the disease through their tears. Touching tears or a surface where tears have landed is another way someone can become infected. You can also become infected by touching your eyes after touching something that has the virus on it. Coronavirus may cause a pink eye infection (Conjunctivitis), but this is rare,” says Dr Sanjith Saseedharan, Consultant & Head-Critical Care, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim-A Fortis Associate.

An article published in The Lancet highlights the role of wearing spectacles for more than 8 hours per day to protect against the infection.

Experts also suggest using eye-protective face shields to prevent community transmission in this regard.

Another study published in National Library of Medicine and quoted by The Lancet said that before using face shields, around 19% of health-care workers became infected from the virus despite wearing three-layered surgical masks, gloves, shoe covers and using alcohol rub. After they started using face shields, none of them was infected.

People who are infected with the virus and those who are caring for them must keep this new finding in mind and follow these tips by Dr Sadeedharan.

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Tips for preventing spread of Covid-19 through tears:

1. Avoid rubbing your eyes when infected with Covid-19

eye infection
Keep eye infections at bay during the monsoon season. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Cover your mouth and nose while sneezing or use the inside of your elbow

3. Throw used tissues in the trash

4. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands if you are around infected people.

6. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

7. Wear a mask in public settings and when around people not living in their household.

8. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.

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