Novel coronavirus: the importance of protecting your eyes

By now most of us are aware of the virus that started in China late in 2019. The novel coronavirus has a variety of symptoms, often presenting with fever and respiratory tract problems that can range from mild to severe illness. Conjunctivitis or “Pink eyes” may in rare cases be present with patients that has become ill with the coronavirus.

There are currently 168 countries where the corona virus is active, and the amount of infected people in South Africa is on the rise.In order to protect ourselves from contracting the virus, the World Health Organisation advises that we practice something called “Standard precautions”. This means that you should wash your hands regularly, cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing and avoid close contact with anyone that has symptoms. Alcohol based hand sanitizer can also be used when hands are not visibly soiled as an alternative to hand washing.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology also recommends that we protect our eyes to prevent infection from the coronavirus, because a person who has contracted COVID-19 may cough, sneeze or even talk – allowing the infected droplet to enter our eyes. The virus can also be spread through tears or eye discharge, so it is important to take caution when coming into contact with these body fluids or the surfaces that it fell on.

Refrain from touching your eyes, because any contaminated surface may transmit the virus to your hands and may then cause infection. This includes wearing contact lenses, so rather use your spectacles for the duration of the outbreak, or institute strict hygiene practices when inserting and removing contact lenses.Your local medical practitioner, optometrist or ophthalmologist may be making changes, just like you are preparing your family for the change in circumstances. You can expect people you encounter to wear personal protective equipment, like gloves, masks and safety glasses.

Your appointment for examination or surgery may be moved or cancelled until the outbreak is under control. If this happens please make sure that you continue with your prescription medication and request a script should you need a new one.Even though the fatal effect of the coronavirus is more likely in patients that form part of a high-risk group, we should all part take to control the spread of the illness. This can be done by following the recommended standard precautions and by implementing social distancing and isolation if you have flu symptoms. You may come off it lightly, but the person you encounter (and infect) may not be so fortunate.


Written by Sr Andrea de Beer, Professional Nurse at Envision Centre for Sight.

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