Scientists have claimed the coronavirus can enter the body through the eyes after finding they contain a protein used by the infection to bind to cells.
A team was led by Lingli Zhou of the Department of Ophthalmology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore analysed ten human post-mortem eyes from people who did not die of COVID-19 for the expression of ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2).
They found the eyes produce ACE-2, making them a target for the virus.
ACE-2 is understood to be the entry point for the virus. Its spiky surface binds to the receptors and, from there, infects the cell and replicates.
The coronavirus – scientifically called SARS-CoV-2 – latches onto ACE-2 receptors, known as the ‘gateway’ into cells inside body.
These receptors are found in the respiratory tract and the lungs, which is where the virus first infiltrates cells, as well as other organs.
ACE-2 receptors have a shape which matches the outside of the coronavirus, effectively providing it with a doorway into the bloodstream, scientists say
It’s suggested that someone with more ACE-2 receptors may be more susceptible to a large viral load – first infectious dose of a virus – entering their bloodstream.
The team also looked for TMPRSS2, an enzyme that helps viral entry following binding of the viral spike protein to ACE2.
ACE2 and TMPRSS2 must both be present in the same cell for the virus to effectively replicate.
Dr Zhou noted that viral particles can be found in tears that ‘could result in transmission to other individuals’.
It means if droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough were to land on the surface of the eye, the virus could begin infiltrating cells there.
It may explain why 30% of patients have suffered conjunctivitis – an inflammation of the eye which causes it to become red and infected.
University of Hong Kong study finds eyes are ‘important route’ for coronavirus, up to 100 times more infectious than Sars
- Researchers from HKU’s school of public health reveal the coronavirus is up to 100 times more infectious through the eyes and airways than Sars
- Study in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine says that explains ‘higher transmissibility’ of Covid-19, compared with the 2003 contagion
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