When virologist Dr. Joseph Fair boarded a packed flight home to New Orleans, he says he took every precaution against contracting COVID-19, including wearing a mask and gloves and periodic wiping, but that didn’t prevent him from contracting the virus. According to NBC News, Dr. Fair, who is also a contributor for the news network, says he believes the virus entered his system through his eyes.
Dr. Fair spoke to the TODAY show from his hospital bed, explaining: “I had a mask on, I had gloves on, I did my normal wipes routine—but obviously, you can still get it through your eyes, and of course I wasn’t wearing goggles on the flight.” Just three days after his flight he says began to show signs of infection.
After months of focus on personal protection equipment for the hands and mouth, should we also be investing in ocular protection as well? “Yes, absolutely” says Saint Petersburg, FL oculoplastic surgeon Jasmine Mohadjer, MD, “you can definitely catch COVID-19 through the eyes. The mucous membranes of the eyes are actually a very high-risk area and have been found to have viral particles.”
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Short Hills, NJ oculoplastic surgeon Baljeet K. Purewal, MD adds, “The American Academy of Ophthalmology and federal officials strongly recommend protection for the mouth, nose and eyes. The virus can be spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes or if you touch an object or surface with the virus present, and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes. This is where hand washing is again so important to avoid transmission through hand to eye contact.”
For contact lens wearers, Dr. Mohadjer recommends taking a break if possible. “Using contact lenses is discouraged because they don’t protect the eyes and lead patients to touch them more than they should.” It’s not just the act of placing and removing the contacts that Increases risk she says, but also the added impulse to rub the eyes more due to irritation and dryness that often accompany contact lenses. “I think large frame glasses, which double as another layer of protection are best to wear right now.”
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