Is pink eye a symptom of COVID-19?

Vice President Mike Pence at the Vice President Debate on Wednesday night. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)
Is Pink Eye a Symptom of COVID-19?
Lots of people have wondered this ever since they noticed Mike Pence's left eye looked decidedly pink during the Vice President's debate on Wednesday night, despite the Vice President saying he had a negative test for coronavirus infection.
The short answer is, pink eyes can be caused by COVID-19, but rarely.
The first thing to know is that conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, has many possible causes. The cause for a particular patient cannot be properly diagnosed without knowing the patient's medical history or performing a personal eye exam, said Dr. Kathryn Colby, chair of the ophthalmology department at NYU Langone Health.
Even the word "conjunctivitis" is a catchphrase that simply means that there is redness and inflammation on the surface of the eye.
"It's not a specific diagnosis," Colby said. "It's a description."
Generally, this inflammation and redness is caused by either a bacterial or a viral infection. Some of the most common causes of the disease include the same adenoviruses that can cause a cold, she said.
"It circulates in dormitories or schools or wherever people are in close contact," she said.
COVID-19 has been linked to conjunctivitis, but it's not a common pairing, Colby said.
She noted that in the early days of the pandemic, a group from China reported seeing a small number of COVID-19 patients who also had conjunctivitis, but the condition was relatively rare.
"Conjunctivitis can certainly occur with any viral disease," said Dr. Colleen Kraft, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Emory University Hospital.
However, she said it was difficult to know if Pence would have it just by looking at pictures and videos of his eye.
"I don't think anyone standing under increased lighting, etc., can adequately judge the presence or absence of this mark," she said.
Colby added that anyone with severe pink eye symptoms, including vision loss, should definitely make an appointment with their ophthalmologist.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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