We know that high blood pressure, high blood sugar and other medical conditions (and medicines) can affect the eye. Now we can add the Zika virus to the list.
Millions of people have been affected by the Zika virus. While the mosquito-borne illness is prevalent in northeastern Brazil, it is rapidly spreading. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is cautioning the healthcare community to be prepared for potential outbreaks here.
Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and conjuctivitis””or none at all. The symptoms are mild and don’t seem to present much risk to healthy individuals, unless you are pregnant or trying the get pregnant.
The danger of contracting the Zika virus during pregnancy is that the virus can pass through the amniotic fluid to the fetus and cause congenital abnormalities, such as microcephaly (a small skull). But that’s not all. The virus has also been shown to cause blindness in babies. A study conducted at Roberto Santos General Hospital in Salvador, Brazil, and published in JAMA Opththalmology, reported that 35% of the babies with microcephaly due to the Zika virus also had vision-impairing lesions. The lesions included bilateral macular and perimacular lesions as well as optic nerve abnormalities. These findings prompted the study authors to alert eyecare professionals to the need of routine exams in infants with suspected exposure to the Zika virus.
As of press time, there have not been any locally acquired cases in the continental U.S., but there have been cases reported in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. There is no vaccine yet, so that leaves us with prevention. If you have a patient who presents with conjunctivitis and has recently traveled to a Zika-prone destination or has been intimate with someone who has (the virus can be spread through sexual contact), you may need to refer them for testing.
Joanne Van Zuidam | Editor-In-Chief