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Zika Virus: An Emerging Retinopathy

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. These mosquitoes are found throughout most of North, South, and Central America, including some parts of the United States. Most cases in the US have been transmitted by individuals who have traveled to affected areas and become infected. However, the number of cases of direct infection by mosquitoes in the US is increasing. A pregnant mother can transmit Zika virus to her fetus during pregnancy. Sexual transmission of Zika virus has also been reported.

Approximately 80% of people infected with Zika virus do not show symptoms. Symptomatic patients generally have fever, rash, joint pain, and/or conjunctivitis. These symptoms can last up to one week. Severe disease and death due to Zika virus are rare. Guillain-Barré syndrome has been reported in patients with suspected Zika virus infection. Guillain-Barré syndrome is a severe neurologic condition that causes muscle weakness due to autoimmune attack on the nervous system. There is no specific antiviral treatment at this time.

The most serious complications have been reported in infants who have microcephaly (small brain and head) and presumed Zika virus infection.

In Brazil, investigators reported retina and optic nerve abnormalities in a study of 29 infants with microencephaly due to possible Zika congenital infection. Investigators reported similar findings in an earlier study of 3 infants. It is not known if these ocular findings are a direct result of the Zika virus infection or are a consequence of microcephaly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant patients should postpone travel areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission. Testing can be offered to any pregnant patients who have travelled to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission. All pregnant patients with symptoms consistent with Zika virus should be tested. Zika virus testing is being performed by the CDC Laboratory and a few state health departments. You should contact your eye doctor with any questions about Zika virus and eye health.