Covid-19

Research to detect presence of virus in eyeballs of Covid-19 deceased

New Delhi, Sept 7 (UNI): A research study to ascertain the presence of coronavirus in the cornea, optic nerve and retina of Covid-19 infected deceased is underway at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, the institute said on Tuesday.

Dr J S Titiyal, Chief of RP Centre of Ophthalmic Sciences (AIIMS), informed during a press conference held on the 36th Eye Donation Fortnight celebration by National Eye Bank (NEB), that five eyeballs have been collected from Covid deceased for carrying out the study.

“The research study will help ascertain the presence of coronavirus in the cornea, optic nerve and retina of Covid-19 infected deceased. These eye balls will be subjected to various molecular tests to detect the presence of covid virus in these tissues and also look for genetic evidence,” he said.

The doctors also said that rare stand-alone cases of blindness among Covid-19 patients have been reported in the country. However, the Covid-19 is not been found as causality among the reported events.

Dr Namrata Sharma, professor, opthalmology department, said that evidence suggesting a direct link between Covid-19 and vision loss has not been found so far.

“There have been isolated cases of retinal and venus blocks which may lead to a sudden diminishing of vision due to thromboembolism. But there has been no proven cause and effect relationship between them found so far,” she informed.

The doctors said that Covid-19 patients developed conjunctivitis it did not lead to vision loss.

“Covid-19 also leads to mucormycosis and in some cases, we had to surgically remove eyeballs of the infected patient. So in a way, the coronavirus has impacted eye vision and lead to blindness, but the causality is not linked directly,” Titiyal observed.

According to the AIIMS, eye banking services have been one of the worst-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As compared to the corresponding period during the previous year (April 2019-March 2020), the NEB witnessed a 79.9% decrease in tissue collection and 78.2% decrease in tissue utilisation, demonstrating the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its activities, the apex institute said.

Corneal tissue retrieval activities by NEB, which remained suspended from April 2020 to June 2020 during the nationwide lockdown, were restarted via the Hospital Cornea Retrieval Program (HCRP) from July 2020 onwards, it added.

“During the period from April 2020 to March 2021 the NEB collected 394 corneal tissues and 311 keratoplasties were performed amounting to a utilization rate of 78.9%,” Titiyal informed.

“The national tissue collection and utilization during this period was 18,359 and 12,998, respectively, amounting to a utilisation rate of 70.7%,” he added.

According to the hospital, the corneal tissue collection recommenced in July 2020 and peaked by January 2021. The collection figures steadily declined thereafter until May 2021, corresponding to the second wave of the pandemic, after which it has again shown an ascending trend.

“We have collected 147 cornea donations in the last five months. We hope to touch 1,000 by year-end,” he added.

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