Over 5,000 cases of Zika virus have been reported in the United States since 2015, and scientists say there may be a resurgence of cases of this mosquito-borne disease over the next few months. Researchers have learned more about how Zika is transmitted and are finding therapies to stop the virus before it does its damage.
“We still don’t know enough about what are all the short-term and long-term effects on the baby,” said Dr. Indira Mysorekar, an associate professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology; Pathology & Immunology and the associate director of the Center for Reproductive Health Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Mysorekar is an expert in fetal infections. She and her colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis are looking at ways to stop the spread of Zika from mother to child.
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Researchers infected pregnant mice with Zika. During pregnancy the virus can be seen passing through the placenta. Next, researchers injected other mice with antibodies that blocked the virus.
“It was not allowed to cross over into the placenta into the area where the blood flow, nutrient and oxygen exchange is happening, so the babies were fine,” said Mysorekar.
Professor Mysorekar said what works in mice should also work in people.
“This is going into human trials,” detailed Mysorekar. “First round of human trials are starting now with this antibody.”
At the same time, Kelle Moley, M.D., a professor and Vice Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis, is researching the impact of Zika on men. Dr. Moley examined the reproductive systems of Zika-infected mice.
“By day 21, we saw no germ cells so basically this would imply that it would lead to infertility, if it has the same effect,” Dr. Moley said.
Dr. Moley said it’s a reminder to both men and women in infected areas to take precautions.
There have been very few studies linking Zika virus to infertility in men. Dr. Moley said there is a CDC study underway in men in Puerto Rico examining a link between Zika, sperm motility, and a decrease in testosterone levels.
According to the National Institute of Health, the first human clinical trial of a potential Zika vaccine is underway at Walter Reed Army Institute of research in Silver Spring, Maryland.