19 March 2020

Viral conjunctivitis and COVID-19

A joint statement from The Royal College of Ophthalmologists and College of Optometrists

Recent reports have suggested that COVID-19 may cause conjunctivitis, and it is known that viral particles can be found in tears, which has caused some concern amongst eye health professionals. It is recognised that any upper respiratory tract infection may result in viral conjunctivitis as a secondary complication, and this is also the case with COVID-19. However, it is unlikely that a person would present with viral conjunctivitis secondary to COVID-19 without other symptoms of fever and/or continuous cough and/or loss of, or change in taste or smell (anosmia), as conjunctivitis seems to be a late feature where is has occurred.
 
Viral conjunctivitis is not currently listed in the national case definition for COVID-19. As such practitioners should treat viral conjunctivitis in the absence of other symptoms as they would usually treat any presentation of viral conjunctivitis, including normal scrupulous levels of infection control, as we do for adenovirus which is very contagious. The optometric management of viral conjunctivitis can be found in the Clinical Management Guideline, it is a self-limiting condition and should not be referred to secondary care. 
 
During the pandemic, we recommend that, for all patients, scrupulous infection control and hand hygiene measures are employed and that, where possible, time spent on slit lamp and other close examinations is kept to a minimum safe level.

Updated: 19 May 2020

This article was correct at time of publication. 

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