SARS-CoV-2: Eye protection might be the missing key – Lancet commentary

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Good eye protection has probably been under-appreciated in preventing COVID-19 infections, according to a commentary published in the UK.

“Ocular surface droplet deposition is greatly under-appreciated as a probable, frequent route for SARS-CoV-2 transmission,” says the paper, which draws on a number of studies carried out since the latest pandemic began, in March 2020.

One involving public health-care workers in Chennai, India, showed that 19% were infected despite wearing three-layered masks, gloves and shoe covers and using hand sanitiser. However, when they were issued with face shields, infections dropped to zero.

A study in China showed that simply wearing spectacles for eight hours a day sharply reduced the risk of being infected with COVID-19.

Ken Boffard, professor of trauma surgery at Netcares Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, said in a Sunday Times report that the British study is “totally credible because you have the tear duct which goes down into the lateral duct”. It is accepted that inhalation is the primary means of transmission, but there is strong evidence that eye protection offers about 20% more protection against the virus.

“80%of your COVID protection comes from a mask,” said Boffard. “But it can be passed on through any other moisture-laden surface that isn’t waterproof, such as your eyes. If it goes into the eyes and then down the tear duct, that’s a very valid point of transmission.”

Professor Barry Schoub, chair of the ministerial advisory committee on COVID-19 vaccines, said it is not surprising the eyes are a route of infection if virus-laden droplets land on their mucous membranes.


Study details
SARS-CoV-2: eye protection might be the missing key

Peter John Collignon, Minas Theodore Coroneo

Published in The Lancet on 23 February 2021


Full Sunday Times report (Restricted access)

The Lancet comment (Open access)

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