A study of mice by researchers has led to the discovery that Zika virus can actually live in the eyes. The researchers were able to identify a genetic material from the virus in tears, confirming eye infection in Zika.
The study, which was from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, was published September 6 in Cell Reports. It details the effect of Zika virus infection in the eyes of mouse fetuses, newborns and adults.
Michael S. Diamond, MD, PhD, the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine and one of the study’s senior authors says;
“Our study suggests that the eye could be a reservoir for Zika virus, We need to consider whether people with Zika have infectious virus in their eyes and how long it actually persists.”
Following the discovery, the researchers plan on carrying out complementary studies in human patients infected with the virus. To determine what effect Zika infection has on the eye, the researchers infected adult mice under the skin.
The eye infection discovery raises the possibility that people could acquire Zika infection through contact with tears from infected people. Jonathan J. Miner, MD, PhD, an instructor in medicine and the study’s lead author says to that effect that;
“Even though we didn’t find live virus in mouse tears, that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be infectious in humans, 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..”
If after replicating the study in humans, tears do not turn out to be infectious, the researchers’ detection of live virus in the eye and viral RNA in tears still has practical benefits.
These practical benefits of studying zika induced eye infection include; human tears being tested for viral RNA or antibodies, a less painful way to diagnose recent Zika infection than drawing blood and the mouse eye could also be used to test anti-Zika drugs.