Zika Virus and Your Eyes

[08/09/2016]

Zika Virus and Your Eyes

 
 
 
 
The Zika Virus has been the hottest trending topic over the past months and since the reports of the problems with microcephaly associated with babies born from infected pregnant women in Brazil, the news has been spreading as quickly (if not faster) than Zika itself!!
 
Zika is a virus transmitted by the Aedes mosquito (which is also responsible for transmitting Dengue and Chikungunya viruses as well). Infection with Zika is not usually fatal and symptoms include fever, rash, joint pains, muscle aches and even conjunctivitis (pink eye). The most well reported (and dreaded) complication from Zika infection is when pregnant women give birth to babies with microcephaly which basically mean that these babies have under-developed brains and this could lead to hearing loss, impaired growth or even blindness.
 
 Zika infection and the eye
 
 
So far, not very much is known about the real implications of Zika infection on the eye. We know that Zika infection can cause a inflammation of the conjunctiva (outer thin covering of the eyeball) which we call conjunctivitis (or pink eye) and this can be easily treated and usually resolves in a few days or a week. This does not usually lead to any significant visual impairment.
 
When news reports refer to BLINDNESS caused by Zika, this is in reference to an article published in May this year by the Brazilian doctors who noticed specific eye findings in babies born with microcephaly from presumed Zika-infected mothers. They described certain pigmentary changes or atrophy of the retina (light-sensitive inner layer of the eye), abnormalities with the optic nerve and also congenital defects of the iris and malposition of the lens in some affected babies. To date, there have been no reports about the effects of Zika infection in the eyes of older individuals except for conjunctivitis.
 
What to do? 
 
If you have symptoms (as described above) which may be indicative of Zika infection, make sure you visit your local GP clinic or if you have red eyes as well, please visit your nearby eye specialist to get checked. There are tests available to check for Zika now and your doctors will likely have to report the infection as well since this is an infectious disease outbreak. If you are pregnant and in your first or second trimester of pregnancy, it is important that you inform your obstetrician as well.
 
The best form of treatment is (and always will be) - PREVENTION. Since the Aedes mosquito is a vector for this disease, practising good hygiene around the house to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds is recommended. Use of mosquito repellent and insecticide will also help. Most importantly, keep up to date with the latest information.