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Yale Study Links Zika and Glaucoma


Researchers have discovered a link between the mosquito-borne Zika virus and glaucoma. A new report, published by a team of doctors at the Yale School of Public Health and in Brazil, says the virus can cause glaucoma in infants who were exposed during pregnancy. 

Since the Zika outbreak began in early 2015, researchers have been studying birth defects caused by the Zika virus, including lesions in portions of the eyes and microcephaly -- a severe condition resulting in a smaller-than-usual head.

But clinicians are discovering more Zika-related health issues. Dr. Albert Icksang Ko, professor at the Yale School of Public Health and co-author of the study, said they’ve now identified the first case of Zika-related glaucoma, which can cause permanent damage and blindness.

“We found after three months, one of the babies who had microcephaly due to Zika virus developed glaucoma," Ko said, "which is not an unusual finding in elderly populations in the U.S, but it’s very rare to find in newborns."

The baby was born in Salvador in northeastern Brazil, one of the areas that has seen particularly severe cases of birth defects associated with Zika.

Since the glaucoma discovery, doctors have identified at least 10 other cases, all in Brazil.

Ko said the report is a wakeup call to clinicians to be aware that glaucoma is another serious symptom of the disease that should be monitored.

“It is readily curable, and I think that’s the second message of the paper," Ko said. "If clinicians are alert, these babies who’ve been exposed to Zika virus during gestation -- if they do develop glaucoma, it needs to be diagnosed very quickly and treated surgically." 

Ko, who credits the Brazilian team for doing the lion’s share of the work on the study, said more research is needed to answer additional questions, including whether glaucoma in infants is caused by indirect or direct exposure to the virus.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.
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