New Study Links Zika Virus to Microcephaly

The Zika virus, thought to be responsible for a surge in birth defects in Brazil, has been found inside the abnormally small brain of an aborted fetus at roughly 29 weeks of gestation, a team of researchers reported Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The case, described by a team of pathologists, microbiologists and maternal-fetal medicine specialists at Slovenia’s University of Ljubljana, is the first published finding of Zika virus directly in brain tissue. Other, unpublished, findings have suggested scientists have found Zika in cerebrospinal fluid.

The case, presented in detail, adds to growing evidence of the Zika virus’s role in astartling rise in the number of cases in Brazil of microcephaly. Brazilian and international health officials strongly suspect the virus is passed from infected mothers to their unborn babies through the placenta and have found the virus in the placentas and brains of fetuses and babies with microcephaly.

An autopsy of the aborted fetus revealed a brain that had virtually none of the folds and convolutions that would usually be seen on the brain’s surface in a fetus at that point in its development. Calcium deposits were evident throughout the brain’s white matter–the tissue that connects neurons and brain regions to one another. And in several places, those calcifications displaced developing cortical matter.

The calcium deposits “resembled destroyed neuronal structures,” the researchers said.

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