Doctors have discovered Zika virus in a stillborn infant with a severely under-developed brain, according to a chilling report published today in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. While Zika virus is already linked — although not definitively — to microcephaly, the new study raises concerns that the disease can lead to even more severe brain damage and other birth defects. Albert Ko, the researcher at Yale's School of Public Health who lead the research, says the case offers evidence that Zika may be linked to hydrops fetalis (abnormal accumulation of fluids), hydranencephaly (near complete loss of brain tissue) and stillbirth. Zika was found in the infant's brain, spinal cord and amniotic fluid.
"These finding raise concerns that the virus may cause severe damage to fetuses leading to stillbirths and may be associated with effects other than those seen in the central nervous system," Ko said in a statement. "Additional work is needed to understand if this is an isolated finding and to confirm whether Zika virus can actually cause hydrops fetalis."
Earlier this week, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported that it was investigating over a dozen cases of possible sexual transmission of Zika virus, including several involving pregnant women. The CDC took the opportunity to remind folks that men who have travelled to an area of active Zika virus should abstain from having sex with pregnant partners.
But new cases continue to emerge. Thousands of pregnant women in Latin America have tested positive for Zika virus, and on Wednesday, the state of Florida announced that three pregnant women who travelled outside the US now carry the virus, too.
Whether hydrops fetalis and other developmental problems turn out to be common among infants born to Zika-infected mothers remains to be seen. But the thought of it sure is scary.
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