What Eyecare Providers Need to Know About Coronavirus

It can cause ocular signs and symptoms.

Published on February 27, 2020



The American Optometric Association has released a set of points that optometrists need to understand about COVID-19.

On Feb. 24, the organization’s Health Policy Institute “consolidated the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, general public health guidance and infection control protocols that all doctors of optometry should be conscious of and actively employ, bearing in mind the evolving nature of this outbreak,” AOA explains in its website.

That includes information on ocular signs and symptoms that can be caused by the coronavirus.

On Feb. 25, the World Health Organization said there were 80,239 confirmed cases globally in 33 countries.

Important facts to know, according to AOA:

  • Frequently reported signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include: fever (83-98%), cough (46-82%), myalgia or fatigue (11-44%), and shortness of breath (31%) at illness onset. Less commonly, patients report sputum production, headache, hemoptysis, diarrhea or nausea. The fever course of COVID-19 infection isn’t fully understood; it may be prolonged and intermittent.
  • As of Feb. 10, the secondary attack rate of transmission for COVID-19 was reported as high as R0 4.08, indicating that on average every case of COVID-19 would create 3-4 new cases.
  • Although viral conjunctival infection is usually caused by adenovirus, COVID-19 may cause ocular signs and symptoms, including photophobia, irritation, conjunctival injection and watery discharge. The latter may be a potential source of contamination while the eye can be a route of exposure. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is required for the patient and care team.
  • Ensure strict adherence to infection control protocols, no matter the office size or setting. Vigilance and proper hygiene-thorough handwashing, PPE use, disinfecting equipment and other recommendations provided by the CDC-in the office when in contact with bodily fluids, such as tears, can help prevent infection. Practices should keep 60-95% alcohol-based hand sanitizer, no-touch disposal receptacles and facemasks in waiting areas and check-ins, Dr. Duenas adds, in addition to visual signage reminding patients of hand hygiene and cough etiquette.
  • Be mindful of commonly understood characteristics of COVID-19, as well as patients’ exposure risk, noting that many signs and symptoms of COVID-19 overlap with those associated with other viral respiratory tract infections. Therefore, CDC offers this checklist for transport or arrival of patients with possible COVID-19.


“Doctors of optometry can prepare their offices by understanding which drugs and medical supplies might be disrupted as a result of manufacturing delays and quickly stock up on those essential to the practice,” said Dr. Michael Duenas, AOA chief public health officer. “Additionally, they may want to consider ways to distance patients in waiting rooms and establish fixed protocols for all doctors, patients and staff to reduce person-to-person transmission.”


Additional information about COVID-19 can be found at:

CDC – www.cdc.gov

World Health Organization – www.who.int

Ready – www.ready.gov

Allegheny County Health Department – www.alleghenycounty.us/healthdepartment/index.aspx

Pa Department of Health – www. https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx



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