It is safe to assume that you have probably heard of the Zika virus. In 2015 an epidemic caused by the Zika virus in Brazil spread to other parts of South America and North America. In 2016 the virus outbreak was declared a public emergency by the World Health Organization. Although the epidemic ended by November of 2016, the organization is actively helping countries affected by the Zika virus by implementing recommendations for the follow-up care of persons with complications related to Zika virus infection. These complications include a connection between the Zika virus and hearing loss.
The Zika Virus
The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted infection that affects people of all ages. Members of the population with weak immune systems such as the very young and the very old are the most susceptible to the infection. Symptoms of the infection include fever, rash, headaches, joint pain, conjunctivitis, and sensitivity to light. The recovery period is usually one week. However about 1 out of 5 people affected will have lingering effects of the Zika virus.
The Connection Between Zika Virus and Hearing Health
In 2013 the first cases of the Zika virus began being reported in the western hemisphere. As such, research connected to the virus is in the early stages. In Brazil, where research on the virus is a priority, researchers are studying adult patients who are positive for the Zika virus and are experiencing hearing loss, tinnitus, and vertigo. The American Academy of Audiology is concentrating its efforts on young Zika virus patients whose mothers were infected early in their pregnancy. The evidence is pointing to a direct connection between the Zika virus, and microcephaly in newborns. Microcephaly, characterized by a smaller than normal head, is accompanied by delayed development, vision, and hearing problems. Research indicates a correlation between delayed neurological development and hearing loss.
Prevention of Zika Virus
Steps can be taken to prevent exposure to the Zika virus and to prevent it from spreading. An infected mosquito bite and sexual contact with an individual exposed to the virus are the primary routes of transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages pregnant women to avoid travel to the areas where the virus is transmitted. These areas include South America, the Caribbean, New Guinea, and South Florida. It further recommends avoiding sexual contact with anyone who has recently traveled to these areas. If travel is necessary, wear mosquito repellant with long sleeves and long pants if possible. Identifying hearing loss early in children is vital for proper hearing health. Infant hearing screenings are critical for all children and particularly those with exposure to the Zika virus.
If you believe that you may have been exposed to the Zika virus and are experiencing tinnitus, vertigo, or a hearing loss, please have a hearing evaluation as soon as possible. If the exposure was during pregnancy, it is important to have your newborn’s hearing evaluated promptly as early intervention is key in childhood hearing loss cases.