Zika Causes Birth Defects by Sidestepping Our Defenses

When the Zika virus starting making headlines in Brazil, the scientific community was skeptical that a mosquito-borne virus could be the cause of a rash of birth defects. As the evidence continued to mount, reality could no longer be ignored; Zika was a problem, and otherwise healthy pregnant women were giving birth to infants suffering from impaired brain and skull development in large numbers.

Why it took so long to see the problem

Zika hasn’t received much attention in the past. The disease was discovered in 1947 during routine screening tests for yellow fever. Since its discovery, outbreaks have been small and isolated. It wasn’t until late 2015 that anyone suspected that the Zika virus could have devastating consequences for unborn children. Since then, scientists have been working around the clock to figure out how to prevent the damage that Zika causes.

The first step to solving a problem is to understand it. The scientific community was skeptical that Zika caused birth defects because there are very few viruses that can affect a fetus, largely because of the effectiveness of the placental barrier. During pregnancy, the placenta controls the fetal environment; it maintains independent blood supplies and regulates nutrient intake and waste elimination. In addition, the placenta acts as a selective barrier that allows for the transmission of certain antibodies from mother to child, providing temporary protection for an infant in the months after birth.

Understanding means progress, not prevention

A new study, published in the journal Cell, confirms that Zika does indeed cross the placental barrier. In fact, the virus shows a preference for placental tissue; concentrations of the virus were 1,000 times higher in the placenta than elsewhere in the body. Scientific American reported, “Once in the placenta, the virus begins to infect the cells of the trophoblast—the tissue that supplies nourishment to the embryo—and damages the blood capillaries of the fetus. ‘Previous work already showed that late-stage placental cells were resistant to infection; now our study shows that the virus is able to cross the barrier between the maternal tissue and the fetus,’ the scientists wrote in their paper.”

In another study, published at nearly the same time, Chinese researchers confirmed brain development is severely inhibited in the presence of Zika. Armed with this knowledge, researchers are hopeful that an effective vaccine will be developed quickly. In the meantime, however, Zika has arrived in our backyards. The mosquito vector, combined with the possibility of sexual transmission, greatly increases the chance of infection.

If you or your loved one is pregnant, your doctor can test you for Zika virus. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how the virus will affect pregnancy, or whether the fetus is also affected. If you have been or are currently in an area with Zika, and your doctor failed to inform you of the possible risks, you may be entitled to compensation. The experienced Kentucky and Ohio medical malpractice lawyers at Crandall & Pera Law can evaluate your case and help get you the compensation you deserve. Call 877-686-8879 for our Kentucky legal team, or 877-686-8879 for our Ohio legal team, or contact us today for a free consultation.