Updated 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Zika therapy 'works in the womb'

Researchers reported two steps toward fighting the Zika virus Monday; one from a team that has found a potential way to protect unborn babies from the virus, and a second from a team that announced the start of human trials of a new vaccine.

In mice, the treatment significantly reduced the amount of Zika virus that circulated in the mother's blood and crossed the placenta into the baby, Nature journal reports.

At birth, there was less damage to the placenta and these baby mice were much bigger than others whose mothers had not received the antibody treatment.

"This is the first antiviral that has been shown to work in pregnancy to protect developing fetuses from Zika virus," said Dr. Michael Diamond at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who helped lead the research.

"This is proof of principle that Zika virus during pregnancy is treatable, and we already have a human antibody that treats it, at least in mice," Diamond added.

Zika virus doesn't cause serious disease in most people, but it causes profound birth defects in babies infected in the womb. The virus, transmitted by mosquitoes and through sex, can also cause rare neurological syndromes in a few adults.

The researchers stress that years of testing will be needed to see if it could be a safe and effective treatment for pregnant women.

In the meantime, other scientists are focusing on making a vaccine that could protect people from catching Zika in the first place.

Zika is spread to people by mosquito bites. Outbreaks of the disease have been seen in the Americas and, more recently, in south-east Asia.

Singapore has said its outbreak was caused by a local strain, not the one which caused the huge outbreak in South America.

Prof Laura Rodrigues, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "At the moment, if a pregnant woman is diagnosed with Zika she only really has one option - whether or not to have a termination.

"Even if we do one day have a vaccine that can protect people from catching Zika, there will still be some who will get infected.

"For these people, a treatment like this antibody one would be helpful."

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