As if it couldn’t get sadder: The Zika virus may now be present in people’s tears
Earlier this summer, we reported about how Zika can be transmitted sexually as well as from mother to baby. Now, as the virus has spread to parts of the United States, even more information is coming out about this terrifying outbreak.
A team of Washington University School of Medicine researchers believed the virus was moving through more than just mosquito bites, so they decided to investigate.
The researchers examined bodily fluids to see if human-to-human contact could spread the virus in other ways.
The good news: Zika cannot be transmitted through sweat.
The bad news: the Zika virus can live in the human eye.
Genetic material that tested positive for the virus was found in tears. According to one of the study’s senior authors, Michael S. Diamond, MD, PhD, the eye can “act as a reservoir for the virus.” This connects some of the dots that researchers have been deciphering: People with Zika often suffer from eye infections, such as conjunctivitis. In fact, 30% of all babies infected in utero by Zika also showed eye defects such as inflammation of the optic nerve, and even blindness. This just makes us want to cry.
While we do not condone animal testing, the study itself was conducted by injecting mice under the skin with the Zika virus. Twenty-eight days later, the mice showed strains of the virus in their eyes, as well as genetic material of Zika in their tears. Though, researchers are unsure exactly how the virus traveled there – either through the bloodstream or through the mouse’s brain.
These findings ultimately raise the possibility that Zika can be spread through our tears.
However, researchers want to conduct further studies to see exactly when and how the tears could be contagious. And, even if their findings prove to be false, the silver lining: Perhaps Zika could be easily diagnosed through the eye.
As new discoveries are made about Zika every day, it is possible that the medical community is heading closer to a vaccine. But until more research has been conducted, stay safe. Use regulation-strength mosquito repellant, practice safe sex, and take steps to prevent mosquitos from entering your home.