The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on microbial keratitis presentation patterns

Gibran F Butt, Alberto Recchioni, George Moussa, James Hodson, Graham R Wallace, Philip I Murray, Saaeha Rauz

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BACKGROUND: Microbial keratitis (MK) is the most common non-surgical ophthalmic emergency, and can rapidly progress, causing irreversible sight-loss. This study explored whether the COVID-19 (C19) national lockdown impacted upon the clinical presentation and outcomes of MK at a UK tertiary-care centre.

METHODS: Medical records were retrospectively reviewed for all patients with presumed MK requiring corneal scrapes, presenting between 23rd March and 30th June in 2020 (Y2020), and the equivalent time windows in 2017, 2018 and 2019 (pre-C19).

RESULTS: In total, 181 and 49 patients presented during the pre-C19 and Y2020 periods, respectively. In Y2020, concurrent ocular trauma (16.3% vs. 5.5%, p = 0.030) and immunosuppression use (12.2% vs 1.7%, p = 0.004) were more prevalent. Despite proportionately fewer ward admissions during the pandemic (8.2% vs 32.6%, p<0.001), no differences were observed in baseline demographics; presenting visual acuity (VA; median 0.6 vs 0.6 LogMAR, p = 0.785); ulcer area (4.0 vs 3.0mm2, p = 0.520); or final VA (0.30 vs 0.30 LogMAR, p = 0.990). Whilst the overall rates of culture positivity were similar in Y2020 and pre-C19 (49.0% vs. 54.7%, p = 0.520), there were differences in the cultures isolated, with a lower rate of poly-microbial cultures in Y2020 (8.3% vs. 31.3%, p = 0.022).

CONCLUSIONS: Patient characteristics, MK severity and final visual outcomes did not appear to be affected in the first UK lockdown, despite fewer patients being admitted for care. Concurrent trauma and systemic immunosuppression use were greater than in previous years. The difference in spectra of isolated organisms may relate to behavioural changes, such as increased hand hygiene.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0256240
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2021


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents/therapeutic use
  • Keratectomy/methods
  • Keratitis/epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Patient Admission/statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tertiary Care Centers
  • United Kingdom/epidemiology


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