NORTHBROOK, Ill.—June 2, 2020—In this edition of Straight Talk with Jeff Cross, Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner of the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a division of ISSA, discusses the importance of eye protection for frontline professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There’s so much that remains unknown about the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. We’re still trying to establish whether infection can actually happen through the eyes, but it is biologically plausible,” said Dr. Macgregor-Skinner.
He explains that the clear tissue, called the conjunctiva, that lines the front of the eye and inside of the eyelid can be a transmission point for other types of viruses, like the those that cause colds and cold sores. For SARS-CoV-2 to infect us, it must attach to ACE2 receptors, which are present in the conjunctiva. New studies show the conjunctiva also produces the enzyme TMPRSS2, which is necessary to help SARS-CoV-2 enter our cells, which is what leads to infection.
Dr. Macgregor-Skinner also explains that we have found SARS-CoV-2 in tears and eye secretions, and tear ducts connect to nasal cavities, which provide a pathway for the virus to infect our respiratory system. “That’s why eye protection right now is so important,” Dr. Macgregor-Skinner said.
If there are infected droplets in the air, the eyes can be exposed just as the mouth and nose can. Additionally, rubbing your eyes when your hands are contaminated could also be a transmission mechanism, but wearing eye protection helps to prevent these types of exposures, as well as reducing the possibility that your eye secretions could contaminate surfaces if you are carrying the virus.
“Especially as we see the country start to reopen up, those that are working—now the front lines have expanded, restaurants, hotels have all become the front lines—start to consider and look at the risks and start to wear eye protection as well as protect your nose and mouth—and wash your hands and clean and disinfect surfaces,” Dr. Macgregor-Skinner said.
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