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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Yale: Findings Shed New Light On Why Zika Causes Birth Defects In Some Pregnancies

One of the devastating effects of the Zika virus is that it can cause severe birth defects such as microcephaly – a condition in which the head is underdeveloped – in children of pregnant women who are infected.

But not all infected mothers experience such birth outcomes. In fact, less than 10 percent of newborn infants born during a 2015 Zika outbreak in Brazil developed severe birth defects due to Zika infection during gestation, according to data collected by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH).

Why only some births are impacted by maternal Zika infection and others are not has remained a mystery.

Now, a team of scientists including researchers with the Yale School of Public Health, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), the Federal University of Bahia and The Rockefeller University of New York say the reason for this difference might reside in the mother’s antibodies.

In a study reported in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the researchers show that the risk of giving birth to a child with microcephaly might be related to how the mother’s immune system reacts against the virus — specifically what kind of antibodies it produces.

It’s an insight that might yield important ramifications for ongoing efforts to develop a Zika vaccine.

When the Zika microcephaly outbreak was first identified in the city of Salvador, Brazil at the end of 2015, Dr. Albert Ko, professor and chair of epidemiology of microbial diseases at YSPH, Dr. Federico Costa, associate professor at the Federal University of Bahia and associate professor adjunct at YSPH, and their colleagues mounted an on-site response.

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