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COVID-19 YOUR QUESTIONS: Can I get COVID-19 through my eyes or ears?

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Covid-19 your questions

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Can I get COVID-19 through my eyes or ears?

It's possible through the eyes but not likely through the ears.

As with the nose and mouth, doctors say the eyes may be a route of infection if someone with the virus coughs or sneezes nearby. Infection is also possible when rubbing your eyes with hands that have been exposed to the virus.

Tears from an infected person could also spread the virus.

Frequent hand washing, social distancing and the use of facial coverings in public are ways to keep the virus from spreading, including through the eyes.

Glasses may also offer added protection, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Health care workers are advised to use safety goggles when treating potentially infected patients.

Ears, on the other hand, are not believed to be a route of COVID-19 infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The skin in the outer ear canal is more like regular skin, unlike the tissue in the mouth, nose and sinuses. That creates a barrier that makes it difficult for the virus to enter, according to Dr. Benjamin Bleier at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston.

Once you have COVID-19 do the antibodies remain?

Here to answer that question, is David Chansolme, M.D., the Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Integris Health:

Can you develop immunity to coronavirus?

The answer, say experts at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, is not yet clear. But based on preliminary information about the virus, they are hopeful.

When one is exposed to a virus or bacteria, the body tries to rid itself of the invader by creating proteins known as antibodies. These antibodies seek and attempt to destroy the trespassers, and the body keeps some antibodies on hand ready to fight if you’re exposed again.

A study in macaques monkeys infected with SARS-Cov-2, as the new virus is technically known, suggests that once infected the monkeys produce neutralizing antibodies that help them resist further infection. But it is unclear how long they might remain immune.

“For example, immunity to SARS, another closely related coronavirus, does protect patients from a second infection for a couple of years,” said OMRF physician-scientist Hal Scofield, M.D. “But, after that, they can be infected again.”

That’s because some viruses evolve over time, allowing them eventually to dodge the immune system, Scofield said.

Still, even if antibody protection were temporary and people eventually became reinfected, the next bout likely would be milder than the first. Even after the body stops producing antibodies, immune memory cells can trigger an effective defense. Even in at-risk individuals, the disease might no longer be life-threatening.

Commercial kits for testing for SARS-Cov-2 antibodies have been used in Asian countries, and the tests recently have become available in the U.S. They will enable testing to determine people who have been exposed to — and recovered from — the virus.

“So, at least in the short run, antibody-positive doctors and nurses likely could attend to COVID-19 patients without risk of reinfection,” said Scofield, who also serves as associate chief of staff for research at the Oklahoma City Veterans Administration.

But such approaches, cautioned OMRF immunologist Linda Thompson, Ph.D., will require time and careful analysis.

“Because this coronavirus is so new, we don't yet have the data to know how protective antibodies will be,” she said.

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