MONDAY, June 21, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The SARS virus has been found in the tears of people with severe acute respiratory syndrome, says a study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.
The finding confirms that tears are a source of SARS transmission -- something that was suspected during last year's outbreak -- and also suggests that analyzing tears could be an effective way of diagnosing the infection.
Researchers took tear samples from 36 people, mostly health-care workers, with suspected SARS in Singapore in April 2003. Subsequently, eight of the people turned out to have probable SARS.
Chemical analysis of tear samples confirmed SARS infection in three of these patients. In one case, the SARS coronavirus was found only in the tears of the patient.
The tears of these three patients with confirmed SARS were tested within nine days of the start of their symptoms. The other five patients with no evidence of the SARS virus in their tears had experienced their first symptoms more than 11 days before their tears were tested.
This suggests that tear sampling may be a sensitive test for early-stage SARS infection, the study authors said in a prepared statement.
That means tear testing could help diagnose SARS sooner, leading to improved treatment and more effective prevention of transmission of the virus. The presence of the virus in SARS patients' tears also poses a health hazard for medical staff taking care of these patients, the study authors noted.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about SARS.