“I vant to suck your blood!” Forget Dracula, there is a new monster in town and it sucks just as bad. The Zika virus is a disease carried by mosquitoes. While it is new in the news, the Zika virus is not a new disease. The first case of Zika virus was actually documented in 1947 in Uganda; in a monkey. The Zika virus wasn't prevalent in humans until 2007 and infected individuals are generally asymptomatic; however, symptoms are possible and include: fever, headaches, rash, itching and joint pain. Most infections are mild and self resolve, just like the flu.
Recently in Brazil, there has been a large number of people (estimated to be over 1 million individuals) infected with Zika virus and most notably there has been an increase in births with microcephaly. Microcephaly is where the brain and skull do not develop appropriately and are small compared to age-appropriate standards While there is not absolute certainty that the virus is causing microcephaly, there is a positive correlation between number of births from mother's infected with Zika and infants being born with microcephaly. A research team at Slovenia's University of Ljubljana have reported finding the Zika virus in brain tissue of an aborted fetus. For a virus to actually penetrate into the brain it had to pass through barriers that are difficult to pass through. Johnny Ocean would want to hire this virus to help with his sting operations! It is also important to note that Zika may also be sexually transmitted. If a pregnant mother has intercourse with a male who has been exposed to the virus there is potential for the fetus to become infected. Proper precautions should be used, keeping in mind the male may not experience any symptoms.
While research teams are evaluating the possible effects of Zika on the brain, another research team recently published an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association about the effects of Zika and the eyes. This research group evaluated ocular signs and symptoms in infants with microcephaly and their mothers to evaluate if there were any common factors. The researchers found that 79.3% of the mothers demonstrated symptoms of a Zika virus infection during their pregnancy. When evaluating the infants with microcephaly 34.5% of the infants had ocular abnormalities. The ocular abnormalities that were documented were found within the retina and can be sight threatening. Interestingly enough, the lesions seen have similar characteristics to lesions found in West Nile Virus and toxoplasmosis, which is a single cell parasite. A dilated eye examination will allow your doctor to determine if a retinal lesion is present. If a retinal lesion is present, your eye doctor can use a digital retinal photograph to document the presence of the condition and monitor for future changes.
Previous case studies of ocular side effects from the Zika virus indicated an associated conjunctivitis (pink/red eye) but no conjunctivitis was noted during this recent research. A conjunctivitis is an infection of the soft tissue that covers part of the front surface of the eye and is commonly referred to as “pink eye.”
I am sure you are wondering what is a definitive way to determine who has contracted the Zika virus, especially if you are planning on visiting Rio this summer for the Olympic Games. Just this week scientists out of Houston have developed a test that can identify a Zika infection within hours of performing the test by sampling certain bodily fluids. Although, there is still no cure or medication, an individual can take to prevent contracting the Zika virus. Before traveling consider researching where you are going to finding useful information through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).