Can the Zika Virus Affect the Eyes?

Can the Zika Virus Affect the Eyes?

If you have perused the news at all in the past six months, you’ve probably seen a headline about Zika, a virus that is spreading through Mexico, Brazil and other South American countries. The virus, which is transmitted through mosquito bites and unprotected sexual intercourse with a carrier, usually causes mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

The real concern is that pregnant women infected with Zika are at a higher risk of giving birth to babies with birth defects — particularly in the eyes. Here, the team at Los Angeles area Eyesthetica explains how the Zika virus can take a toll on a baby’s eyes.

Possible Eye Damage in Babies

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recently published a piece summarizing the potential eye damage caused by the Zika virus. Dr. Michael Repka, a spokesperson for the AAO, shared the following warning: “Zika infection would appear to be a very important public health issue due to vision loss, in addition to other developmental abnormalities in the brain.”

In the article, the AAO cited studies out of Stanford University and Brazil linking the virus to serious brain and eye abnormalities. Both studies looked at babies born to mothers that were infected with Zika during pregnancy. The babies were all diagnosed with a medical condition known as microcephaly, which caused them to be born with a small head and brain. The babies also had at least one of the following ocular problems:

  • Retinal hemorrhaging
  • Loss of retinal vasculature (blood vessel abnormalities)
  • Eye lesions

Without the proper treatment intervention, these problems are known to progress and cause blind spots, decreased peripheral vision and total blindness.

The study authors said they could not determine whether the ocular abnormalities were caused by the Zika virus or linked to microcephaly caused by the virus. Further research is needed to determine the cause and effect. Regardless of the connection, it is clear that the Zika virus is a serious threat to pregnant women and their babies.

How You Can Protect Yourself

If you are pregnant or planning to conceive in the near future, it is wise to avoid areas affected by Zika. The CDC keeps a current travel list of locations to avoid. If you cannot avoid traveling to one of the locations affected, do your best to prevent mosquito bites by using bug spray and wearing long sleeves and pants.

Do not have sexual intercourse with any partners that could be infected with the virus or that have recently traveled to a Zika-affected area. (Or, at a minimum, use protection.)

If you have recently traveled to a Zika-affected area, and are experiencing flu-like symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get checked out.

Contact Eyesthetica

For more information about the ocular problems mentioned in this post, or about other threats to you and your family’s eye health, please contact Eyesthetica today by calling (213) 234-1000.