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Zika May Be Linked to Visual Challenges in Babies

Dorathy Gass

Research recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reveals the Zika virus could be connected with serious vision issues for Brazilian babies who are born with microcephaly; where these issues could lead to blindness.

A birth defect where an infant is born with an abnormally small head, the vision issues connected with microcephaly would depend on the part of the brain that is affected, and the severity of the condition.

CNN advised that lead author Rubens Belfort Jr. stated that severe retina lesions found can affect these children’s vision, which could lead to blindness. However, more than 35% of the infants tested revealed scarring symptoms that resulted from a viral infection in the eye; which is quite different from insufficient eye development that microcephaly cases bring. As Lee M. Jampol, Northwestern University, states (an author who had written matching commentary for the journal), it is similar to what has been witnessed with the West Nile and Ebola viruses in the past.

Last December, a research team reviewed infants born with heads smaller than 32 centimeters, at one of the most impacted regions, Salvador’s Roberto Santos General Hospital. Infants were tested for diseases that cause microcephaly, like: rubella, toxoplasmosis, herpes simplex, cytomegalovirus, HIV, and syphilis. While four out of five individuals who have Zika show zero signs of the infection, all of the mom’s (but six) revealed symptoms of having this illness while pregnant.

What they also found were that the eyes of the infants had two main scarring patterns; with one being dark, small, oblong spots in region of the retina where critical vision takes place; and the other revealed intensive retinal lesions, where some were quite big.

The team also found optic nerve damage, which sends visual signals to the brain. As Belfort states, the lesion is at the part of the optic nerve inside the eye, which indicates that it has been caused as a result of a virus, and differs from what could happen when brain development is not apparent.

While the team cannot clarify if the virus is still active, Jampol does acknowledge more research is needed around retina damage. The team also thinks it is quite important that all newborns whose mothers had contracted the Zika virus while pregnant, have the back of their eyes tested; even if they do not have microcephaly.

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