Travel Alert: Zika and Hearing Health

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Travel Alert: Zika and Hearing Health

Mosquito landing on leaf

Over the last year, a new virus has taken hold of the headlines. Zika. Chances are you’ve heard the travel warnings and seen photos of the youngest victims.  You may have missed some of the lesser talked-about risks associated with this newest viral enemy. Experts now believe the Zika virus could have a serious impact on hearing in victims of all ages.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Zika virus has been found in areas throughout the world, including South and Central America, parts of southern Asia, Africa and even pockets in North America.  South America, in particular, has been hard hit. Zika is transmitted through the bite of a specific type of mosquito, can be spread from pregnant mother to fetus and also through sexual contact. In general, symptoms of the Zika virus are mild and flu-like including fever, rash, headache and joint pain. It has been the more shocking and long-lasting effects, such as the serious birth defect microcephaly, that have captured people’s attention though. What isn’t often mentioned is the lesser known but life-changing hearing loss that experts now believe could also be a result of the Zika virus.

According to researchers, Zika may be linked to long-lasting neurological damage, including hearing loss, in those infected by the virus.  Scientists at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil have been on the front lines, studying the Zika virus and its impact on those infected since the beginning.  Back in 2016, Dr. Viviane Boaventura, an ear, nose and throat specialist with the foundation shared observations of 10 patients believed to have Zika with NPR, stating “After Zika they started with some symptoms like vertigo or dizziness and hearing loss and tinnitus [ringing in the ears].” Dr. Boaventura went on to share that even up to two months after contracting the virus the patients “suffered measurable and significant hearing loss as well as lightheadedness.”

These observations are not alone. The results of an additional study have since been released confirming the connection between Zika and hearing health.  According to authors, “This report of three cases indicates that transient hearing impairment may be a specific manifestation of acute ZIKAV disease. A subsequent case-control study would be necessary to demonstrate this causal relationship and elucidate the mechanisms leading to auditory dysfunction in this setting.” While these subjects were adults, hearing loss has also been observed in infants infected by the Zika virus.  Researchers stress that as with any sudden hearing loss, quick treatment is essential.  While some long lasting hearing loss has been observed, in many cases, quick treatment can restore much of the hearing function.

There is no vaccine to prevent or treat for Zika. Officials stress that the best thing to do is prevent contracting the virus by avoiding traveling to affected areas, preventing mosquito bites and similar measures.

While research into the Zika virus and its impact on hearing health is still in its infancy, initial reports show an alarming connection.  Don’t put your health or hearing at risk! Follow experts’ recommendations to avoid contracting this newest virus and risk hearing loss.

 

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