UW researchers make 'landmark discovery' in fight against Zika virus

KOMO Gale photo

Scientists at the University of Washington published online Nature Medicine on , what they call a landmark discovery in the fight against the Zika virus. They describe it as "the nail in the coffin," not only proving Zika causes abnormal brain development, but showing just how quickly it can strike, with devastating results.

At their South Lake Union laboratory, UW Medicine researchers handle live Zika virus. They're proving just how dangerous that is.

"This study is the first direct proof that Zika does in fact cause fetal brain injury and it does it very quickly," said Dr. Kristina Adams Waldorff, an OBGYN and lead author of the study.

How quickly? Just 10 days after a pregnant pigtail macaque was infected with the Zika virus, an MRI of the fetal brain showed significant damage. The head stopped growing.

There are dozens of locally transmitted cases confirmed now in Florida. But experts say even more people could be unknowingly carrying Zika.

"The mother didn't even get sick. no rash, no signs of a clinical illness," said researcher Dr. Michael Gale. "So there could be many young mothers out there exposed to Zika who might not even know they could be infected." They could learn of the infection in the worst way - through a future pregnancy where the baby develops the life threatening brain abnormalities.

The scientists say we need a vaccine to prevent Zika, a medicine to treat someone who is already infected, and much more public awareness. "I'm very concerned for my patients," said Dr. Adams Waldorf. "This is the most significant infection and epidemic that has happened to pregnant women and obstetrics in my generation."