According to a new American study, the Zika virus can attach itself to a child's eyes while s/he is in a Zika-infected mother's womb. Researchers found that children in the wombs of infected pregnant monkeys had severe eye inflammation as early as the first trimester.
Researchers first gave a small dose of the Zika virus to four pregnant rhesus macaque monkeys. The amount of the viral strain given to the monkeys was the same dosage as that of a mosquito bite. The doctors analyzed the effects of Zika on the children by examining the tissues of the fetuses after performing caesarean sections.
From the results of this study, doctors believe fetuses in all Zika-infected mothers' wombs are exposed to the deadly virus. All of the fetuses observed in this study had significantly inflamed optic nerves, retinas, and choroids.
Perhaps the most important finding from this study is that a child could've been exposed to the Zika virus even if that child shows no apparent symptoms after birth. According to this study, it's highly likely that the virus entered the child's eyes and will manifest later on in life.
This study took place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was headed by Thaddeus Golos. Dr. Golos teaches comparative biosciences in UW-Madison's Cellular & Molecular Pathology Graduate Program.
According to Dr. Golos, all doctors should "consider the eye as a target of the [Zika] virus." He said that this most recent study on monkeys is in line with observations made in people with Zika who reported symptoms of conjunctivitis and other eye problems.
As of today, doctors are only allowed to perform these kinds of Zika tests on monkeys. The only times scientists can legally study human tissues are either due to a stillbirth or a maternal death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Zika virus mainly spreads through the Aedes species of mosquito. However, this disease can also travel through unprotected sex. A few of the common symptoms of the disease include fever, rash, headaches, and muscle pains. As of today, there's no vaccine for the Zika virus.
Doctors first discovered Zika in Ugandan forests way back in 1947. A few of the countries with a high risk for catching Zika today include Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, India, and mostly all central African nations. There have also been a few reported cases in the USA in states like Florida and Texas.
Golos and others are planning on performing postnatal evaluations of baby monkeys exposed to Zika. He says that he will be working with "pediatricians, ophthalmologists, and audiologists" to "assess whether the Zika exposure we have demonstrated has a functional impact as well as a cellular impact."
Anyone visiting a nation prone to Zika infections is asked to take preventative measures with his/her doctor. The best ways to prevent yourself from the disease include wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, always applying insect repellent, and practicing safe sex or abstinence.
People can read this full study in recent edition of the medical journal PLOS Pathogens. The study is entitled "Highly efficient maternal-fetal Zika virus transmission in pregnant rhesus macaques."