Zika Virus & Eye Damage in Babies
Study in Brazil Links Zika Virus to Eye Damage in Babies
The Zika virus has spread through both Central and South America and it is estimated that in 2016, 3 to 4 million people will be infected with the virus The Zika virus is transmitted to humans mainly through the bite of infected mosquitoes.
Infants infected with the Zika virus may not only be born with unusually small heads, a condition known as microcephaly, but also with eye abnormalities that may threaten vision.
The study described damage to the retina or optic nerve in 10 of the 29 newborns examined at Roberto Santos General Hospital in Salvador, Brazil. All of the infants were presumed to have been infected with the Zika virus and had microcephaly.
Seven out of the 10 newborns had defects in both eyes, while three infants had damage in one eye. The most common problems were black speckled lesions or large areas of tissue damage in the retina, as well as damage in the layer of the blood vessels and tissue underneath the retina.
It is unknown whether the retinal damage directly affects the vision as it is difficult to assess subjective vision in infants. However, since the lesions can be permanent, early detection is essential in the management of retinal disease.
Since it is expected that a large number of these kids will be visually impaired, the recommendation is for all infants with microcephaly to routinely receive comprehensive ocular examinations.
It is not yet clear whether a baby without microcephaly who was exposed to Zika in utero may develop ocular damage.
To detect potential eye problems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last month that any infant whose mother lived in or visited any country experiencing a Zika outbreak during her pregnancy be tested for the infection. If the mother’s test is positive or inconclusive, the baby should receive an ophthalmologic evaluation within a month of birth.