Zika virus burst onto the scene in 2015, and in six countries, there was an increase in the number of infants born with a brain disorder called microcephaly. In 2016, it seemed like the outbreak, which can also cause blindness and sensory defects, was mostly over. New work by researchers at six National Primate Research Centers has indicated that Zika A infections might also be responsible for stillbirth and miscarriage in women that aren’t showing any sign of the infection. The findings have been reported in Nature Medicine.
"This is an important study where all of the primate centers collaborated to provide enough data and information to further our understanding of Zika's effect on pregnancy," said Scientist Jean Patterson, Ph.D., of Texas Biomedical Research Institute and the Southwest National Primate Research Center.
For this work, the scientists used rhesus macaques, pigtail macaques, and marmosets, which are several kinds of nonhuman primates. After female nonhuman primates (NHP) were exposed to Asian/American ZIKV (Zika virus) in early stages of their pregnancies, the team monitored their pregnancies by ultrasound and blood draws. They observed that 26 percent miscarried or had stillbirths. Few of those animals showed any other symptom of viral infection.
"The primary conclusion from this multi-center study with important implications for pregnant women infected with Zika virus is that stillbirth and miscarriage occur more frequently in infected nonhuman primates than animals not exposed to the virus," explained lead author Dawn Dudley, Ph.D., with the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. "This conclusion would not have been possible without the concerted efforts among the investigators at each institution to share and combine our data to draw statistically significant conclusions while also conserving precious nonhuman primate resources."
The researchers suggested that their findings may indicate that there may be more adverse outcomes in pregnancy due to Zika virus than what was thought.
Researchers are still looking for ways to treat the virus, and are trying to develop a vaccine. In some places where the risk is higher, there is greater vigilance. Along the US/Mexico border, the Texas Department of State Health Services has urged OB/GYNs to test pregnant women for Zika virus three times over the course of their pregnancy. People are urged to use protection against mosquitoes as well.
Get some Zika virus infection prevention tips from the following video. The video above shows an accurate 3D model of what the virus looks like.