News flash: Just because the Summer Olympics in Rio have come and gone doesn't mean you should stop caring about Zika. We're still finding out more and more about this super virus. And, unfortunately, most of the news isn't good. (If you don't know the basics, read this Zika 101 first.) The latest news: Zika can cause glaucoma in babies who were exposed to the virus in the womb, according to new research by Brazilian scientists and the Yale School of Public Health.
We already knew that Zika can live in your eyes, but this is another scary addition to the laundry list of birth defects that the virus can cause in newborns—including a severe condition called microcephaly, which halts brain development. The Yale researchers found that Zika also affects the development of portions of the eye during gestation—hence, the talk about glaucoma. It's a complicated disease where damage to the optic nerve leads to progressive and permanent vision loss. It's the second leading cause of blindness, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. Luckily, with early treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This link between Zika and glaucoma is the first incidence of its kind; while investigating microcephaly in Brazil, the researchers identified a 3-month-old boy who developed swelling, pain, and tearing in his right eye. They quickly diagnosed glaucoma and performed an operation to successfully alleviate the eye pressure. Because this is the first case, the researchers say that additional research is needed to determine whether glaucoma in infants with Zika is caused by indirect or direct exposure to the virus, either during gestation or postpartum.
ICYMI, this is a BFD because Zika has been spreading like crazy; the number of pregnant women in the U.S. and its territories infected with the virus has jumped from 279 in May 2016 to more than 2,500, according to the CDC. And you should care even if you're not pregnant or planning to become pregnant anytime soon; Zika might have negative effects on the adult brain too. Might be time to stock up on these Zika-fighting bug sprays (and always use condoms—Zika can be transmitted during sex too).