Zika virus can cause immune and brain abnormalities in asymptomatic pig offspring

Zika virus infection in the womb produces altered immune responses and sex-specific brain abnormalities in apparently healthy pig offspring, according to a study published november 14 in the open-access journal PLOS Pathogens by Uladzimir Karniychuk of the University of Saskatchewan, and colleagues. As noted by the authors, the findings could point to new strategies to prevent and alleviate the long-term effects of Zika virus infection.

Zika virus can cause severe abnormalities in fetuses such as brain lesions, and subsequent life-long developmental and cognitive impairment in children. However, the majority of infections in pregnant women are subclinical and are not associated with developmental abnormalities in fetuses and newborns. It is known that disruptions to the in utero environment during fetal development can increase disease risk in adulthood. For this reason, children affected in utero even by mild Zika virus infection can appear deceptively healthy at birth but develop immune dysfunction and brain abnormalities during postnatal development. In the new study, the researchers used the porcine model of subclinical fetal Zika virus infection to determine health outcomes in offspring that did not show apparent signs of the disease.

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