Ebola, COVID-19, and emerging infectious disease: lessons learned and future preparedness

Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 2020 Sep;31(5):416-422. doi: 10.1097/ICU.0000000000000683.


Purpose of review: To highlight the lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak that may inform our approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly related to the widespread disruption of healthcare, ophthalmic disease manifestations, and vision health systems strengthening for future outbreaks.

Recent findings: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), first detected in China in December 2019, has become a worldwide health emergency, with significant disruption of all aspects of society, including travel, business, and medical care. Although this pandemic has had unprecedented effects on healthcare delivery in the United States, experiences from recent Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreaks in Africa provide insight and inform our approach to COVID-19 and outbreak preparedness. Like COVID-19, the rapid emergence of Ebola required new clinical and surgical approaches to understand its associated spectrum of ophthalmic complications and the potential for Ebola viral persistence within the eye and in tear film. Recent reports of ophthalmic findings associated with COVID-19 include conjunctivitis, retinopathy, and molecular evidence of virus within the tear film in a minority of cases. Yet, more rigorous approaches to understand ophthalmic disease and transmission risk associated with COVID-19 are needed. Gaps also remain in our understanding of eye disease associated with other high priority emerging infectious diseases including Nipah, Lassa fever, Marburg virus, and others.

Summary: Thoroughly understanding the ophthalmic findings and transmission risk associated with COVID-19 is paramount during this pandemic, providing additional measures of safety while resuming ophthalmic care for all patients. Vision health systems preparedness measures developed during recent EVD outbreaks and the current pandemic provide models for ophthalmic clinical practice, research, and education, as we continue to address COVID-19 and future emerging infectious disease threats.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Civil Defense / organization & administration*
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / prevention & control*
  • Global Health
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission
  • SARS-CoV-2