A new study finds that one of the easiest ways for the novel coronavirus to spread is through tears. A research team at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine published findings on Saturday that show human tears to be an effective way of spreading SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19. This could be bad news for emotional patients as the pandemic goes on.
The team at Johns Hopkins studied a group of 10 cadavers that were not infected with the coronavirus to see how the surfaces of their eyes reacted to the virus. They found that the area underneath the eyelids produced a large amount an enzyme called ACE2 — known to facilitate to spread of COVID-19. Their findings may show that the eyes are even more susceptible to the virus than previously thought, making tears a very serious potential vector for spreading the virus.
The study has not been peer-reviewed yet, though the usual publishing conventions of science have been sped up, in many cases, as doctors rush to find new data on COVID-19. Commenters on the biology research pre-print site bioRxiv.org indicated that many trained experts were taking the finding seriously.
The study tracked another enzyme as well, known as TMPRSS2. This enzyme helps the coronavirus enter the body more easily, sometimes through pores on the skin and down to blood vessels. Researchers noted large amounts of TMPRSS2 in the eyes as well, potentially meaning that exposure of the eyes could make the virus even more communicable.
In practical terms, the research team said that their findings make the tears of anyone who may have been exposed to the coronvirus a serious danger. They advised that people who think they may be carrying the virus should be weary of where they cry, how they wipe their eyes and what happens to the tissues they use to do so.
Experts have been warning that the eyes are a potentially dangerous orifice since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. One of the first big pieces of advice to go viral back in March and February was to avoid touching your face altogether — something that many people joked was a nearly impossible task.
While many people have been wearing gloves and face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, few have been adding eye protection as well, except in a hospital setting. So far, the CDC has not released guidance on this topic for the average citizen.