And you thought pink eye was bad

By Lauren Mazzo
September 07, 2016

We know that mosquitos carry Zika, and ditto with blood. We also know that you can contract it as an STD from both male and female sexual partners. (Did you know the first female-to-male Zika STD case was found in NYC?!) And now, per the latest Zika findings, it seems that the virus might be able to live in your tears.

Researchers found that the virus can live in the eye and that Zika's genetic material can be found in tears, according to a new study published in Cell Reports.

Experts infected adult mice with the Zika virus through the skin (like a human would be infected through a mosquito bite), and found the virus active in the eyes seven days later. Although the researchers don't know exactly how the virus is traveling from the blood to the eye, these new findings suggest why some infected adults develop conjunctivitis (redness and itchiness of the eyes) and, in rare cases, an eye infection called uveitis (that can be serious and lead to vision loss). Almost one month after infection, the researchers still found genetic material from Zika in the tears of the infected mice. The virus wasn't infectious virus, but we still have a lot to learn how this might play out in humans.

Like the Zika virus in general, this has more repercussions for babies and fetuses than adults. Zika can cause brain damage and death in fetuses, and for about a third of all babies infected in utero, it results in eye diseases such as inflammation of the optic nerve, retinal damage or blindness after birth, according to a release from The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where the study was conducted.

All of this is a big red flag for the spread of Zika: if the eye can be a reservoir for the virus, then there's a chance Zika can be spread by coming in contact with an infected person's tears. Just when you thought a sobby breakup couldn't get any worse.

"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," said the study author Jonathan J. Miner, M.D., Ph.D., in the release.

Though the initial study was done on mice, the researchers are planning similar studies with infected humans to determine the true risk associated with Zika and eye infection. And while the idea of human tears being infectious means scary things for the spread of Zika, these findings could bring us closer to a cure. Researchers could use human tears to test for viral RNA or antibodies, and the mouse eye could be used to test anti-Zika drugs, according to the release. Thank goodness for a silver lining.


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