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Detection of Coronavirus in Tear Samples of Hospitalized Patients With Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 From Oropharyngeal Swabs

  • Dutescu, R. Michael1
  • Banasik, Peter2
  • Schildgen, Oliver3
  • Schrage, Norbert1
  • Uthoff, Daniel1
  • 1 Aachen Centre of Technology Transfer in Ophthalmology (ACTO e.V.), An-Institute, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany;
  • 2 GenExpress Gesellschaft für Proteindesign mbH, Berlin, Germany; and
  • 3 Institut für Pathologie der Kliniken der Stadt Köln, Klinikum der Privaten Universität Witten/Herdecke, Witten, Germany.
Published Article
Publication Date
Sep 08, 2020
DOI: 10.1097/ICO.0000000000002562
PMID: 32897895
PMCID: PMC7526400
PubMed Central


This study was designed to detect CoV-RNA in the tears of polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 positive patients. Methods: We performed a prospective case series study of hospitalized patients who have been confirmed SARS-CoV-2 positive by oropharyngeal swab within the previous 5 days. Tear samples obtained with a laboratory capillary and oropharyngeal swabs were analyzed by real-time PCR using the Altona SARS-CoV-2 Assay or the Roche SARS-CoV-2 LightMix PCR, depending on the availability. Patient history was documented, and ophthalmoscopy was used to assess for ocular surface disease. Results: Of all 18 patients recruited in April 2020, 5 suffered from respiratory failure and were submitted to an intensive care unit. None of our patients had signs of viral conjunctivitis although all patients in intensive care showed chemosis and conjunctival hyperemia because of third-spacing or fluid overload. The presence of coronavirus RNA was confirmed by PCR in 5 of 18 patients (28%) in tears and 72% for oropharyngeal swabs. Conclusions: Using a tear fluid sampling technique similar to oropharyngeal lavage presents a higher percentage of SARS-CoV-2 positive tears in contrast to earlier reports that used a conjunctival swab. This does not automatically indicate viral shedding in ocular tissue or contagiousness of tear fluid.

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