As summer approaches, it’s hard to turn on the news without hearing reports about the Zika virus, which spreads through mosquito bites. We already know that the Zika virus can cause microcephaly and developmental disabilities in babies whose mothers were pregnant when they contracted the virus. However, a new study suggests the virus may lead to previously overlooked eye problems in some babies.
These new findings are published online in the journal Ophthalmology, and are based off research conducted by scientists from Brazil and Stanford University. The research team examined the eyes of three infant boys born in northern Brazil in late 2015 with microcephaly— a condition that has recently been definitively linked to Zika virus infections. All three boys had mothers who suspected they had contracted Zika during the first trimester of their pregnancies.
Upon examination, the team identified several eye problems affecting the retina that had not previously been linked to Zika. According to Healthline, the retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye. It is necessary for vision and helps to convert light into signals for the brain to interpret.
The first eye condition identified in the three infants was hemorrhagic retinopathy, a condition that causes bleeding in the retina and is most commonly found in long-term diabetes patients. The team also noted abnormal vasculature in the retina of the babies. This condition was marked by missing blood vessels in the retina where the cells may have died. Lastly, the team noted torpedo maculopathy in the children, a condition identified by lesions in the macula, the central part of the retina.
Although the study is small, the results suggest that the Zika virus may do more to damage to eye development and vision than previously believed.
“The next step is to differentiate what findings are related to the Zika virus itself versus microcephaly caused by the virus in order to better understand which infants will need screening,” said senior author Dr. Darius Moshfeghi in a recent statement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Zika virus is a disease spread by the bite of an infected mosquito and can cause mild flu-like symptoms. These include fever, joint pain, and rash. They usually last for a few days and most patients do not require hospitalization. The condition known as microcephaly is a birth defect characterized by a much smaller than typical head and a host of health problems such as seizures, developmental difficulties, and intellectual difficulties. At the moment, there is no vaccine against the Zika virus.
To help further investigate the health conditions that may be related to the Zika virus, the authors ask that parents of babies with microcephaly in Zika virus affected areas have their children examined by an eye doctor.
“The procedure can contribute significantly to our understanding of the infection,” the authors wrote.
Source: de Miranda, HA. Costa MC, Frazão MAM, et al. Expanded Spectrum of Congenital Ocular Findings in Microcephaly with Presumed Zika Infection. Ophthalmology . 2016
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