By now we know that Zika Virus, a mosquito-borne disease, carries some serious health threats and risks, previously thought to be most dangerous for pregnant mothers and their unborn babies. If bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito carrying Zika, an unborn baby could potentially be born with a serious birth defect called Microcephaly, causing abnormally small heads and impaired brain function.
Zika Virus Causes Blindness
Now Zika Virus is also being linked to and eye infection causing permanent blindness, reported by the New England Journal of Medicine last week. This Zika-induced eye infection, uveitis, can cause glaucoma, cataracts and loss of vision.
How can you protect yourself?
If you’ve recently traveled to countries with documented Zika transmission – like Brazil, parts of the Carribbean and Central America, Mexico, and the Pacific Islands – see an ophthalmologist. Potential signs and symptoms of an eye infection related to Zika Virus are eye redness, pain or sensitivity to light. If left untreated, uveitis can “cause irrevocable damage to the retina,” according to Dr. C. Stephen Foster, president of the Massachusetts Eye Research and Surgery Institution in Waltham.
Planning to travel to a country with recent Zika outbreaks?
Protect yourself from mosquito bites by using bug repellent with DEET and keeping your arms and legs covered with loose-fitting long sleeves and pants (find out more about mosquito bite prevention here). Pregnant women or women expecting to become pregnant should avoid traveling to these countries all together. The same applies to men that are trying to conceive with their partner; Zika Virus can be sexually transmitted from men to women.
2016 Summer Olympics
Those planning to travel to Rio, Brazil for the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics are especially at risk. At least 4-6 weeks prior to your trip, talk to your doctor about vaccinations and medicines recommended for travel to Brazil. It’s also a good idea to purchase travel health and medical evacuation insurance, according to the CDC, and stay up to date with travel warnings and breaking news in that area. While visiting Rio, mosquito bite prevention is key to reducing your risk of Zika and other mosquito-born diseases. Wear mosquito repellent with DEET around the clock, avoid areas of standing or stagnant water, and wear loose, light-colored clothing that covers arms and legs. And since Zika can be sexually-transmitted, avoid unprotected sex during travel and for at least 8 weeks after. The CDC recommends that pregnant women not go to the Olympics.