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Congenital Zika Syndrome Linked to Development of Glaucoma

DEC 02, 2016 | SARAH ANWAR

Infection with the Zika virus is known to cause microcephaly in developing fetuses and has also been associated with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Now, a new study has found a link between the mosquito-borne flavivirus and glaucoma.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness.” However, if treatment is started early, “serious vision loss” is preventable. Glaucoma develops with the rise of fluid pressure in the eyes; however, more recently, glaucoma was observed in eyes with normal fluid pressure. Vision loss due to glaucoma can occur suddenly (due to closed angle glaucoma), or can occur gradually without notice until it is in advanced, untreatable stages. For most individuals, the pain associated with glaucoma can be a blessing in disguise as it leads to the individual seeking medical help before full loss of vision.

Researchers from Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) working with researchers from Brazil recently discovered a link between infection with the Zika virus in utero and the development of congenital glaucoma. According to press release on the study, researchers from Brazil and YSPH reported “severe lesions in the retina” in newsborns early on in the Zika epidemic; however, this study, published in the journal Ophthalmology, is the first to associate glaucoma with the virus.

While studying microcephaly in infants in Northeast Brazil, the researchers discovered a 3-month-old Zika-infected infant that had been born without any signs of eye abnormalities, whose right eye later became swollen, painful, and teary. After diagnosing the baby with glaucoma, the research team operated on the baby's right eye, successfully relieving the fluid pressure.

Co-author of the study, Albert Icksang Ko, MD, professor at YSPH, who has been investigating Zika Congenital Syndrome and its complications since the start of the epidemic in the Americas, stated in the press release, “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 glaucoma after birth."

More research into the link between in utero infection with the Zika virus and the development of glaucoma is needed; however, healthcare providers should be aware of the risk of glaucoma when treating an infant with Zika Congenital Syndrome.

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