The Zika virus has quickly gained Ebola-level notoriety as it has spread through the Western Hemisphere in recent months. Researchers in Brazil, where it was first detected in May, have linked infections in pregnant women to a condition known as microcephaly: infants born with undersize heads.
Where birth defects are concerned, however, the Zika virus is far from unique. A number of other viruses, such as rubella and cytomegalovirus, pose a serious risk during pregnancy. Researchers have uncovered some important clues about how those pathogens injure fetuses — findings that are now helping to guide research into the potential link between Zika and microcephaly.
“I think we’ll discover a lot of parallels,” said Dr. Mark R. Schleiss, the director of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
The risk that viruses pose during pregnancy came to light in the mid-1900s, when outbreaks of rubella, or German measles, led to waves of birth defects, including microcephaly, cataracts and deformed hearts and livers.
The number of infants affected was staggering. In an epidemic in Philadelphia in 1965, 1 percent of all babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome, which can also cause deafness, developmental disability, low birth weight and seizures.
Click here to read the full article by Carl Zimmer, New York Times.