Zika is no longer as great a threat as it recently was but a return is likely. The surfacing of another epidemic may not be for years, but teams of researchers are putting things in place to protect the populace. The Zika virus is known to cause damage to the brains of babies who contract the infection while in the womb.

A major first step

Babies are sometimes born with atypically small heads. Countries with high occurrence rates of the mosquito-borne virus are often similarly afflicted by the dengue virus. Researchers have found an antibody that is capable of protecting against both viruses.

Findings could lead to the creation of preventative drugs, or a vaccine based on the antibody, that will protect fetuses, from infection before birth in addition to safeguarding their mothers from contracting dengue or Zika. This is a major first step that could save thousands of unborn children.

Effects of the antibody

An antibody that has been proven to protect against dengue has shown itself equally effective against Zika in mice. Testing conducted on pregnant mice showed that administering the antibody soon after the creatures were infected with Zika, allowed for the fetuses to be shielded from the virus. In the control group of infected mice that did not get the antibody, the fetuses were found to waste away.

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis directed the study.

The study showed that the antibodies tended to stay in the bloodstream for weeks. For Pregnant Women, it is possible that a few doses of a drug that is antibody-based over the course of a pregnancy, have the potential to protect the fetus from Zika as well as dengue.

Dengue is not usually directly harmful to fetuses, but it can tangentially harm them due to high fever, harsh headaches and the muscle and joint pains it may cause the mother.

According to Michael S. Diamond, MD, Ph.D., the senior author of the study that was published in Nature Immunology on September 25th, the antibody is capable of neutralizing the Dengue Virus in mice and is able to protect not just the fetus but also the adult from Zika.

The research

Dengue and Zika are known to be related viruses so researchers believed that what worked for one would work with the other as well. Estefania Fernandez, a graduate student worked closely with Gavin Screaton, MD, Phil from Imperial College London. he had previously studied anti-dengue antibodies. Non-pregnant adult mice were infected with Zika and then administered one of the anti-dengue antibodies at intervals of one, three and five days, while another group was given the placebo.

Eighty percent of the untreated mice died within three weeks of being infected. Those given the antibody by the three-day mark, all survived, while those given the antibody at day five survived at a rate of forty percent.

Phase two found researchers infecting female mice at different stages in their pregnancy. Findings indicated that for the antibody to be effective at protecting fetuses it must be administered very soon after infection. This could prove challenging in humans, as many people won't know exactly when they were infected.

According to Cidrap, "Gavin Screaton, MD, DPhil, senior author and dean of medicine at Imperial College London, said in an Imperial College press release that the findings need to be replicated in primates, which would shed light on potential effects in humans and if the antibody might move toward clinical trials in humans."