Social distancing, hygiene vigilance, and travel restrictions were related to decreased conjunctivitis-associated emergency department (ED) visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as decreased interest in internet searches for nonallergic conjunctivitis, according to a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology.
Researchers noted 1156 conjunctivitis related ED visits between January 2015 and February 2021. In total, the research shows a 37.3% drop in nonallergic conjunctivitis cases, while cases of nontransmittable ocular pathologies stayed the same.
The study also examined publicly available smartphone mobility data. That aspect of the investigation shows that internet searches for conjunctivitis also dropped by 34.2% following widespread COVID-19 health measures. “These findings show that search metrics in conjunction with mobility data may provide quantifiable metrics of the associations of public health interventions with transmissible diseases,” according to the investigators.
The drop in internet searches occurred between 2 to 3 weeks after the onset of the pandemic. This lag could imply that conjunctivitis cases were due to adenovirus, which typically takes between 5 and 12 days to manifest. Search data also reflected seasonality patterns of adenovirus infection, with peaks in winter and spring.
Study limitations include hesitancy to seek non-COVID related treatment during the early stages of the pandemic and the tendency for COVID-19 to produce conjunctivitis-like symptoms in 6.6% to 31.6% of patients.
Lavista Ferres JM, Meirick T, Lomazow W, et al. Association of public health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic with the incidence of infectious conjunctivitis. JAMA Ophthalmol. Published online November 18, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2021.4852