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Zika Virus: From Mother to Fetus


David A. Schwartz, MD, MS Hyg, FCAP, clinical professor of pathology at Medical College of Georgia, Augusta University, explains his research, which focuses on mechanisms of transmission of the Zika virus from mother to child.
Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)
“I, amongst several things that I do, am an obstetric and placental pathologist. I study the mechanisms of transmission of infections between pregnant women and the fetus, which is obviously a major problem, with not just Zika virus, but other emerging agents, such as Ebola virus, and some others.
I helped design studies that look at how [Zika] may be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her unborn child. As part of that I look at placentas, which, of course, [is] the baby’s largest organ. I sometimes look at maternal factors, and as an epidemiologist I’m also looking at behavioral risk factors, as well, and even some basic scientific issues, such as virology issues, and things like that.
Certainly, we’re at the very preliminary stages of this. We’ve only known that the Zika virus definitively is responsible for these fetal malformations since last year. There’s been very rapid progress. I’ve been doing this work for over 30 years and I’ve never seen such rapid progress on an emerging infection as I’ve seen with Zika virus.
Myself, in terms of what I’m finding, is that the Zika virus, interestingly enough, seems to go through the placenta and cause very little abnormality of pathology. And that’s very different than what we see with most other infections that are transmitted from pregnant women to their fetuses.
I’ve given a talk on that [at the First International Conference on Zika virus], and the findings are very technical, but a summary of that would be that this virus is able to cross the placenta, we believe, causing very little, if no inflammation at all, which is very unusual for a trans-placental infection.”
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