A new study suggests that the Zika virus might be much more dangerous than we previously thought. The study, conducted by various organizations including UC Davis’ California Primate Research Center reports that past researches have grossly underestimated the virus’ ability to cause miscarriages. More and more women could experience miscarriages because of the virus and be unaware that they have been infected. The study was published recently in the journal Nature Medicine and suggests that about 26 percent of nonhuman primates that were infected with the Zika virus during early stages of their pregnancies miscarried or experienced stillbirth and showed only few signs of being infected. Researches done in the past only focused on women were showed clear signs of being infected and it was recently reported that 5% of these women had unsuccessful pregnancies.
Dawn Dudley, lead author of the study and scientist at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison explains, “There are limitations to the human studies, which rely on symptomatic infections. Women get enrolled in the studies because they have Zika symptoms, but we know that up to half of people who have Zika don’t show any symptoms at all. So, the pregnancy studies are probably missing half of the people who have Zika.” Zika virus is notorious for causing microencephaly (a brain abnormality) and several other deformities in newly born children. Most common signs of the infection caused by this virus include fever, rash, headache, joint pain, muscle pain and red eyes.
“For pregnant women who live in areas where Zika virus is prevalent, and who may experience spontaneous abortions, the possible link to Zika virus infection may be missed,” explained Lark Coffey, who is an arbovirologist at UC Davis and also the co- author of the paper. “Our data in monkeys indicate more research is needed so researchers can develop intervention strategies to protect pregnant women and their fetuses from Zika virus”, he said. The data for the research was collected from six different National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs). Researchers could better study the infection and its effects in these centers than they would if they studied human infections. Pregnant rhesus macaques were monitored at the California, Oregon, Tulane and Wisconsin NPRCs, common marmoset monkeys at the Southwest NPRC and pigtail macaques at the Washington NPRC. Results confirmed that if the mothers were infected during the first trimester of their pregnancy, it would probably result in death of the offspring.