Zika Fears Update: Virus May Live In Tears, Study Says

The Zika virus — mainly spread by the bite of the Aedes mosquito and sometimes sexual transmission — is currently an international health emergency. Cures and preventions for the Zika are currently an enigma to researchers and doctors, though they continue their search to better understand the disease. 

A new study has just revealed that the Zika virus could persist in the eyes, which may explain why some patients develop eye disease that leads to permanent vision loss. Additionally, eye infection raises the possibility that people could acquire Zika infection through contact with tears from infected people. Zika is associated with multiple neurological disorders, as well as microcephaly in unborn children, a condition that causes them to be born with abnormally small heads and cognitive issues.

tears A new study suggests that the Zika virus may persist in eyes. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Abid Katib

"Our study suggests that the eye could be a reservoir for Zika virus," said Michael S. Diamond, MD, PhD, the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine and one of the study's senior authors. "We need to consider whether people with Zika have infectious virus in their eyes and how long it actually persists."

Scientists studied the effects of Zika by infecting adult mice with the virus under the skin — similar to the way humans are infected by mosquitoes. Seven days later, researchers found live virus still in the eyes and the tears of infected creatures, Researchers also found that the virus was not infectious when tested 28 days later.

"Even though we didn't find live virus in mouse tears, that doesn't mean that it couldn't be infectious in humans," said Jonathan J. Miner, MD, PhD, an instructor in medicine and the study's lead author. "There could be a window of time when tears are highly infectious and people are coming in contact with it and able to spread it."

What do these results mean for future Zika studies? The researchers are now planning complementary research in human patients infected with the virus.

Source: Diamond MS, Miner JJ, Apte RS. Evidence Of Zika Virus Found In Tears. Cell Reports. 2016.

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