A new study has published alarming findings about the effect of the Zika virus on a pregnancy. More than a quarter of the pregnancies in primates infected with Zika in the first trimester resulted in miscarriages or stillbirths.
Six national primate research centers collaborated on this study, published in the journal Nature Medicine. The Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio was one of them. It is home to marmosets, a small monkey native to South America. Researchers at Texas Biomedical Research Institute have found that all marmosets infected with Zika early in their pregnancies lose those pregnancies.
Those findings were added to pregnant primate research from other primate research centers, leading to the conclusion that 26-percent of primates infected with the Zika virus early in their pregnancies had miscarriages or stillbirths.
Jean Patterson, Ph.D., is a scientist at Texas Biomed, and she says all of the research done to date is clear: Zika is bad for pregnancies. She says Zika is particularly devastating because it’s a relatively new virus.
"When you have an emerging disease like Zika, you suddenly have a whole population exposed to it at once, instead of a population where you're born. You're exposed to the disease...you're running around, you're a toddler you don't know you're sick. Things are fine. It's when an emerging disease hits a whole population -- including pregnant women and seniors and young kids and the whole spectrum -- that you suddenly discover there is one part of the population that's more susceptible. And that's exactly what happened with the Zika infections."
Patterson says the research discovered the pregnant primates -- like humans -- show few symptoms of infection and quickly recover. But the fetuses remained infected, leading to the miscarriages and stillbirths, or to a birth defect called microcephaly, a brain abnormality.
Patterson says these findings will help scientists focus research on areas that could improve outcomes.
There is currently no vaccine against Zika, but scientists are working on it. Patterson says they will explore whether it’s safe to give an eventual vaccine during pregnancy. They are also want to know if it would be safe to give pregnant women antiviral medication to treat their Zika infected fetuses.
In the United States, Zika infections have been detected in Florida and Texas.
Bonnie Petrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org