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The Possible Connection Between Zika and Glaucoma And How To Prevent It

Posted on April 07, 2017 by Glaucoma Research Foundation

As if we haven't heard enough about the Zika virus, now we have a study from Yale University researchers in Brazil showing that, in addition to the known risks of birth defects, infants exposed to the virus before birth can suffer from congenital glaucoma. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Zika-induced glaucoma may be the only form of glaucoma you can prevent before it happens, by taking some simple steps.

What Is Zika?

Zika is a virus that, like malaria, is primarily transmitted through infected mosquitoes and can also be transmitted sexually or through infected blood. According to the CDC, many of those infected have no symptoms, or only very mild symptoms that include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain and headache. Like the flu, symptoms last a few days to a week, usually do not require hospitalization, and are rarely fatal. Moreover, those infected with Zika are likely to be protected from further infection, somewhat like the chickenpox.1

For pregnant women, however, things get more complicated because Zika can affect the developing fetus. Infected in utero, these babies are often born with congenital Zika syndrome, which consists of severe microcephaly, decreased brain tissue and damage to the back of the eye, among other symptoms.2 In 2016, researchers working in Northeast Brazil found a new potential symptom of Zika: glaucoma.

The First Potential Zika Glaucoma Patient

A three-month old boy who had been exposed to Zika in utero was experiencing swelling, pain and tearing in his right eye, which led the research team to diagnose him with glaucoma. “We identified the first case where Zika virus appears to have affected the development of the anterior chamber or front portion of the eye during gestation and caused secondary congential glaucoma glaucoma after birth,” said Dr. Albert Icksang Ko, professor at the Yale School of Public Health.

With the help of a local opthamologist, they performed a trabeculectomy, which successfully lowered the intraocular pressure by opening a new drainage path for the fluid. While this is the first known incidence of glaucoma in an infant with the Zika virus, the research team warns physicians treating Zika patients to consider glaucoma another serious symptom of the disease that should be monitored. Of course, because this was the first case of glaucoma potentially connected to Zika, additional research is needed to determine if glaucoma in infants with Zika is caused by indirect or direct exposure to the virus, either during gestation or postpartum.3

The Good News: You Can Avoid Zika-related Glaucoma

Because of the effect Zika has on the unborn, it is vital that pregnant women avoid infection. The good news is that the disease can be avoided with just a little planning and flexibility. To avoid infection, pregnant women should:

Avoid areas where Zika is prevalent. Before you travel, find out whether the Zika virus is found at your destination. If it is, and you’re pregnant, change, delay, or cancel your travel plans.

Avoid mosquito bites. If you are in South Florida, Brownsville, Texas, or any other Zika hot zone, it is important to remember to use an EPA-registered insect repellent with DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-methane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. All of these, when used as directed, are effective and safe for pregnant women and nursing mothers. You should also wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants treated with insect repellent, or pre-treated with Permethrin (these you don’t have to treat youself). If you live in an infected area, make sure your window and door screens are in good repair, use mosquito netting over your bed, and make sure to eliminate any and all standing water around your property since this is where mosquitoes like to lay eggs.4

Avoid unprotected sex with someone who is either infected, or has traveled to a place where Zika is found. If you can avoid sex with someone who may be infected, do so. If not, then practice safe sex religiously.

Looking Forward

While Zika is on the way to being one of the most well-understood viruses to strike mankind, there are still a great deal we need to learn. With proper funding, researchers can help to find the connection between the virus and congenital glaucoma and come up with treatment or prevention options for mothers and their children.

Glaucoma Research Foundation offers funding to researchers working on various aspects of glaucoma, its prevention and treatment. That funding, however, depends on your generosity. Donate today to help make a difference in the fight against glaucoma.

1 Zika Virus. Centers for Disease Control, 11 Oct. 2016. Web. 5 Feb. 2017.

2 “Microcephaly & Other Birth Defects.” Zika Virus. Centers for Disease Control, 17 Jan. 2017. Web. 5 Feb. 2017.

3 Greenwood, Michael. “Zika and Glaucoma Linked for First Time in New Study.” Yale News. Yale University, 30 Nov. 2016. Web. 5 Feb. 2017.

4 “Prevent Mosquito Bites.” Zika Virus. Centers for Disease Control, 17 Jan. 2017. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.

Last reviewed on April 07, 2017

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