Zika Virus and the Eyes

By now everyone has heard about the recent outbreak of the Zika Virus. What is the Zika Virus and does it impact the eyes?

Zika viral disease is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.*

Associated with this epidemic has been an unusually large number of infants born with microcephaly (3,174 to be exact). Microcephaly is a condition in which a baby’s head is significantly smaller than expected, often associated with abnormal brain development. In a study done in December in Brazil, 29 mothers, who had symptoms of Zika while pregnant, were evaluated along with their children. Ten of the 29 infants with microcephaly showed ocular abnormalities such as retinal scarring and optic nerve abnormalities. These associations are still under scrutiny, as Brazil did not have the proper testing abilities at the time to definitively test for Zika.**

As of now the only reported cases of locally acquired Zika in the United States are in the territories of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and America Samoa. US mainland residents acquiring Zika while traveling abroad numbered 107 as of 2/24/16.* Travel advisories are posted in International airports and on the CDC website, as standard procedure for any travel outside the USA.


** JAMA Ophthalmology

The JAMA Network Journals. “Eye abnormalities in infants with microcephaly associated with Zika virus.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 February 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160209140753.htm.

Written by Bart W., Technician with Milwaukee Eye Care