“Scientists say they may have found a way to protect babies in the womb from the harmful effects of Zika,” BBC News reports.
Researchers have had success using antibody therapy to treat mice when they were still in their mothers’ womb.
There is evidence that Zika virus, which has become widespread in South America recently, can damage the development of babies in the womb. One of the most striking birth defects associated with Zika is babies being born with abnormally small heads and brains (microcephaly).
The hope is that by treating babies in the womb it may be possible to prevent, or at least reduce the extent of, birth defects.
The study involved isolating strains of antibodies (infection-fighting proteins) from the blood of people who’d recovered from Zika. Scientists picked the antibodies that were most active against several strains of the virus. They then tested their effect on pregnant mice infected with Zika.
The mouse foetuses were much more likely to survive if their mothers had been given antibodies, and there was less evidence of damage to the foetus or placenta.
Results in mice cannot tell us whether the treatment will be safe or effective in humans. So the researchers say the treatment should next be tested on monkeys, as their pregnancies and reactions to Zika virus are more similar to humans.
The need for effective Zika treatments is pressing as a study from earlier this summer estimated the current epidemic would last for at least three more years.
The study was carried out by researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and Washington University School of Medicine in the US.
It was funded by the US National Institutes of Health and grants from the charitable institutions Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the March of Dimes.
BBC News covered the main findings of the study accurately and made it clear that the treatment is not yet ready to be used in humans.
Scientists believe there’s enough evidence to show Zika virus infection is a cause of birth defects, including microcephaly.
Pregnant women are therefore recommended to postpone non-essential travel to areas with active Zika transmission until after pregnancy.
Discuss your travel plans with your GP, practice nurse or a travel clinic. If travel is unavoidable, you should take extra care to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Public Health England (PHE) provides regular updates about the current spread of the disease.
Insight orovided by NHS UK