The Zika virus is considered a relatively new epidemic, and its effects have yet to be fully investigated. One emerging problem associated with the virus is the potential for eye damage in babies and adults. Studies and observations of people in areas where the virus is currently prevalent, such as Brazil, have revealed some complications appearing to result from damage caused by the infection.
While many people infected with Zika virus won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms, the most common symptoms of Zika does include conjunctivitis. While conjunctivitis or red eyes is not contagious, it will cause a minor irritation to the eyes.
Zika is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.
Although the virus is primarily associated with bites from infected mosquitoes, it can also be transmitted sexually or passed on from a mother to her baby. The latter has become a particular concern in Brazil, where nearly 5,000 babies have been born with a birth defect known as microcephaly. In this condition, the baby’s head is smaller than normal, possibly indicating a smaller brain and leading to the potential for other problems, including trouble with vision.
A recent study revealed some vision problems in these babies are more likely due to the activity of the virus rather than complications from microcephaly. Published in JAMA, the study identified retinal lesions and scarring in more than 35 percent of the infant subjects while additional damage was observed in the optic nerve. These defects have the potential to impair vision or lead to blindness.
Possible Eye Health Problems
Eye-related complications from the virus aren’t limited to babies. In Brazil, an adult man was diagnosed with a case of uveitis related to the viral infection. Characterized by inflammation in the middle layer of tissue within the eye, called the uvea, uveitis can manifest suddenly with symptoms such as:
– Dark spots or “floaters” in vision
The condition can occur in one or both eyes and may increase in severity in a short period of time. Doctors identified and treated the inflammation in the Brazilian man, and no further symptoms have been observed. However, if left untreated or not caught early enough, uveitis can lead to cataracts, high blood pressure in the eye, glaucoma, vision loss or damage to the optic nerve or retina.
Preventing the Spread
Because the Zika virus is often contracted from mosquitoes, minimizing contact with these insects is one of the best ways to prevent infection. Take the following precautions to reduce the risk of mosquito bites:
- – Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when spending time outdoors
- – Use insect repellent containing ingredients such as DEET or lemon eucalyptus oil
- – Place mosquito netting over strollers
- – Use screens on windows, examining them periodically for holes
- – Remove standing water from outdoor areas
- – Sleep under mosquito netting if sleeping outside
- – Avoid hiking and camping in swampy areas or wetlands
Practicing proper preventative measures can help slow the spread of Zika and keep you safe from infection. If you’re concerned about the effects of the virus on eye health, talk with your doctor about any additional steps you can take to minimize exposure. Those living in areas where the virus is currently prevalent may wish to postpone plans for pregnancy until further information is available.
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