A virologist and epidemiologist who appears regularly on NBC News said he likely got infected with the coronavirus through his eyes during a "packed" flight to New Orleans.
Dr. Joseph Fair was on NBC's "Today" Thursday and said he was wearing a mask and gloves when he recently flew home to New Orleans, but he was alarmed by how close people were in the cabin.
The unnamed airline, he said, "had us packed in like sardines. … Instinctively, I probably should have gotten off."
Instead, Fair stayed in his seat and began feeling ill three days later.
"I had a mask on, I had gloves on, I did my normal wipes routine ... but obviously, you can still get it through your eyes," Fair said. "And, of course, I wasn't wearing goggles on the flight.
"That's one of the three known routes of getting this infection that we just don't pay a lot of attention to. We tend to pay attention to the nose and mouth, because that is the most common route. But you know, droplets landing on your eyes are just as infectious."
Contracting COVID-19 through his eyes, Fair said, is "the best guess I could give."
Fair was hospitalized after he was having trouble breathing in enough oxygen. He asked doctors to give him oxygen instead of employing the use of a ventilator, and his condition improved days later. He remains hospitalized but is no longer in critical condition.
Healthcare officials have said the virus, which has sickened 4.5 million people worldwide and killed more than 300,000, enters the body through the mouth and nose in most cases, which led to mask-wearing guidelines. But there's also the risk of getting sick though the eyes.
"It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes," reads a passage on the CDC's website. "This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus."
A recent Italian study found that the virus can live for weeks in the eyes and could be a way for the disease to spread between people.
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