The Other Problem Virus

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, ophthalmologists were encouraged to support the efforts to control spread by seeing only urgent eye problems.  While we are being inundated with coronavirus news and information, another, more familiar, infectious disease continues to show up in our examination rooms: adenovirus.

Adenovirus is responsible for many cases of “pink eye”, or infectious conjunctivitis. I had expected that social distancing would virtually eliminate adenoviral issues, but the condition continues to appear, though definitely less frequently than pre-COVID-19.  Coronavirus has been reported to occasionally present with red eyes, so we have taken particular caution with these patients.

Adenovirus conjunctivitis has so far eluded direct treatment.  Because the condition is generally self-limited, conventional advice has been to minimize transmission risk to others, while making the eyes comfortable until the disease runs its course (usually over 1-2 weeks).

Fortunately, strides are being made towards an effective therapy for ocular adenovirus.  Phase 3 studies have started on a drug (APD-209, made by Adenovir Pharma) to block an adenoviral receptor on corneal epithelial cells. Brincidofovir (CMX001, Chimerix, Inc.) is another medication which may prove useful, having demonstrated promising results treating patients with systemic adenovirus infections.

In the meantime, the best strategy for containing viral pink eye should sound familiar: keep your distance, wash your hands frequently, don’t share pillowcases or towels, and try to avoid touching your face too much.

Benjamin Ticho, M.D.