Something as irritating as a pesky mosquito has spread fear around the world. The rapid spread of the mosquito borne Zika virus is taking the joy away from motherhood. A new study, with findings just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, provides a stronger type of evidence than previous studies of the effects of Zika during pregnancy. This study looked into the virus’s genetic material, which is considered more reliable than looking for antibodies produced by the immune system in response to the Zika infection.
Concerns over the link between Zika and microcephaly (pronounced small heads and birth defects) are growing in Brazil and other South and Central American countries. The latest study shows that pregnant women who have become infected may also be at risk for having additional problems in pregnancy, birthing a child with other health issues or fetal death.
Dr. Karin Nielsen Saines, co-author of the study and a professor of clinical pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, says,
Zika definitely causes the problems. We think of microcephaly as only the tip of the iceberg.
Researchers enrolled pregnant women from a clinic in Brazil on whom a red rash had appeared within the previous five days. They tested blood and urine specimens for Zika. Out of the 88 women enrolled, 72 tested positive for the virus. The women, who were otherwise healthy without pregnancy risk, were followed and researchers collected clinical and ultrasonographic data. Ultrasounds were performed on 42 women with Zika and 16 without the virus. Other participants declined the ultrasound. Of the women, 30% of the Zika infected women revealed fetal abnormalities, 12% having fetuses with microencephaly. The women not infected with the virus had healthy fetuses.
It was discovered that many of the Zika infected fetuses had intrauterine growth restriction, the entire fetus being abnormally small, not just the head. Lesions on the brain or spinal cord and other nervous system issues were found in 16% of the Zika infected fetuses.
Seven of the Zika infected women had placenta deficiencies, whereby the fetus wasn’t receiving oxygen or other nutrients. Two of the Zika infected women had stillbirths at 36 and 38 weeks respectively. One baby (otherwise normal) was urgently delivered in order to save its life. It was found that there was a high risk of fetal death in the last trimester of Zika infected women. Some women are so frightened that they are requesting their doctors to induce labor in the second and third trimester in order to minimize damage to their fetuses.
This viral Zika infection has been termed Congenital Zika Virus Syndrome. Researchers admit that further studies, with a larger study group, needs to be conducted in order to know the true rate of Zika-related pregnancy complications.
It’s just the tip of the iceberg.