Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)

Ocular tissue can be infected by SARS CoV-2

Study also suggests that diabetes may be a potential risk factor for ocular transmission of COVID-19

Rockville, Md. – Research being presented at the virtual 2021 Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) confirms that the SARS-CoV-2 can infect ocular tissue, especially of those with diabetes, and that wearing protective eyewear could reduce transmission of COVID-19.

The study, led by Sneha Singh, PhD. and Dr. Ashok Kumar, PhD., of the Kresge Eye Institute at Wayne State University and in collaboration with Eversight Eye bank Organization was inspired by the death of Chinese ophthalmologist Dr. Li who treated a glaucoma patient suffering from COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection. Singh and team screened donor eyes to be used for corneal transplantation for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2, and ultimately detected the replicating virus in the tissues with an antiviral response. Further, the corneal tissue from diabetic patients had higher permissivity to viral infection and antiviral immune response, signs of productive infection. Ultimately, the findings indicate that SARS CoV-2 can infect and replicate in corneal tissue and diabetes condition can increase the susceptibility and severity of COVID-19.

“In our present study, the evidence for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the corneal tissue strengthens the previous reports that the eye could be a reservoir of the virus and get infected by SARS-CoV-2,” says Singh of her research. “We do not have experimental evidence to show the transmission of the virus in the ocular tissues, until now. Our study confirms the presence of replicating SARS-CoV-2 in the cornea of COVID-19 donors resulting in the production of inflammatory mediators and recruitment of immune cells to the cornea. Moreover, diabetic corneal cells had increased SARS-CoV-2 replication, suggesting that diabetes is a potential risk for ocular transmission of COVID-19.”

Commenting on the implications of her research, Singh notes the importance of screening donor eyes for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA to avoid contributing to the spread of infection during the approximately 47,000 cornea transplant surgeries performed in the United States annually. Further, she advises, “ophthalmologists and health care workers should wear protective eyewear while examining patients to prevent the spread of the virus. We should try to wear protective eyewear if we are going outside to crowded places along with face masks to avoid being infected.”

Abstract title: SARS-CoV-2 infects human corneal epithelium and elicits an antiviral immune response

Presentation start/end time: Monday, May 3, 2021,4:30 – 6:15pm ET

Presentation number: 3544057


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The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) is the largest eye and vision research organization in the world. Members include approximately 10,000 eye and vision researchers from over 75 countries. ARVO advances research worldwide into understanding the visual system and preventing, treating and curing its disorders. Learn more at


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