Abstract

Purpose: The putative presence of SARS-CoV-2 in ocular specimen puts healthcare workers at risk. We thoroughly examined conjunctival swabs and tear fluid in a large cohort of COVID-19 patients. Methods: A total of 243 symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patients were included in this observational multicenter study. Conjunctival swabs were analyzed by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction for detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Next-generation sequencing and phylogenetic analysis were performed to identify viral strains and to determine tissue tropism. Schirmer tear samples from 43 hospitalized COVID-19 patients and 25 healthy controls were analyzed by multiplex cytokine immunoassays. Results: Viral SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in conjunctival swabs from 17 (7.0%) of 243 COVID-19 patients. Conjunctival samples were positive for viral SARS-CoV-2 RNA as long as 12 days after disease onset. Cycle threshold (Ct) values for conjunctival swabs (mean 34.5 +/- 5.1) were significantly higher than nasopharyngeal swabs (mean 16.7 +/- 3.6). No correlation between Ct values of conjunctival and nasopharyngeal swabs was observed. The majority of positive conjunctival samples were detected only once and primarily during the first visit. Next-generation sequencing analysis revealed that the virus strain found in the conjunctiva was most often identical to the one found in the nasopharynx. Tear cytokine levels IL-1 beta and IL-6 were elevated in COVID-19 patients compared to healthy controls. Conclusions: Conjunctival samples that were positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA contained the same viral strain as the nasopharynx. Translational Relevance: The presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA and elevated cytokines in tear fluid confirm the involvement of the ocular surface in COVID-19 disease.
Original languageEnglish
Article number32
Number of pages15
JournalTranslational Vision Science & Technology
Volume10
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • SARS-COV-2
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • conjunctival swab
  • sequencing
  • tear fluid
  • CORONAVIRUS DISEASE 2019

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