Researchers focused on the spread of the Zika virus have identified a human antibody, or protein, that prevents the virus from spreading from an infected mother mouse to her fetus. They suggest that the finding will contribute to the development of a successful human vaccine against Zika, an illness that causes birth defects in babies born to women who become infected.
“This is the first antiviral that has been shown to work in pregnancy to protect developing fetuses from Zika virus,” said Michael Diamond, M.D., of the Washington University School of Medicine, the study’s co-senior author. “This is proof of principle that Zika virus during pregnancy is treatable, and we already have a human antibody that treats it, at least in mice.”
What the research showed
Investigators collected a set of anti-Zika antibodies from people who had recovered from a Zika infection. One of the antibodies, it turned out from lab studies, neutralized five strains of Zika. So researchers implanted it in pregnant mice.
The antibody, they say, reduced the levels of virus in pregnant female mice and their fetuses. The findings “represent the first medical intervention that prevents Zika infection and damage to fetuses,” said co-author James Crowe, M.D., of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Even though a fully tested human vaccine isn’t yet available, researchers think it may be possible to protect unborn children by administering antibodies to pregnant women.
The Zika virus, which is spread primarily by mosquito bite, usually causes just mild symptoms in infected adults, but can cause heartbreaking birth defects in unborn children. The most common defect is microcephaly, in which a baby’s head is smaller than normal because its brain didn’t develop fully.
Other birth defects affect joints, muscle tone and the back of the eye.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises pregnant women and their partners who live in or travel to areas with Zika to:
- Take steps to prevent mosquito bites.
- Take steps to avoid transmission of the virus through sexual contact.
- Talk to a health care provider about being tested for the virus.
To learn more
Providence caregivers are staying abreast of developments in the fight against Zika. You can find a Providence provider here.
We’ve written previously about the spread of Zika and the birth defects it causes. Among our stories:
The CDC has been documenting and updating its resource pages on Zika, covering everything from mosquito-control measures to maps showing where Zika cases have been reported.
The study, “Neutralizing human antibodies prevent Zika virus replication and fetal disease in mice,” was described in an advance online preview in the journal Nature. A reader-friendly story about the study was published by the Washington University School of Medicine.