CU Anschutz and Baylor researchers to study Zika virus impact on children

Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Baylor College of Medicine will join with Guatemalan investigators in a major study examining the clinical outcomes of children infected with the Zika virus after being born, focusing on long-term brain development.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Monday that scientists would try to answer that question by carrying out the first large such study to be funded by the agency.

As concerns over Zika virus have grown since 2015, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has turned to local public health professionals to compile data on distribution of the two primary mosquito species capable of transmitting the virus, Aedes aegypti (the primary vector for Zika) and Aedes albopictus. The study will enroll 500 infants under 3 months of age and their mothers, to conduct thorough neurologic exams and age-appropriate neurodevelopmental testing at study enrollment and serially for the duration of the study and identify changes in children who become infected with Zika virus. It has a full complement of local investigators, nurses and laboratory technicians along with Emory University's Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Unit (VTEU) research laboratory led by Dr. Mark Mulligan.

"For many impoverished children in our country, any Zika effect on their neurodevelopment will add burden to their futures", Bolaños added.

The trial was reviewed and approved by the Guatemalan Ministry of Health, National Ethics Committee and will be implemented in full compliance with Guatemalan and US regulations that govern clinical research. This will include a cohort of 300 children who have postnatally acquired Zika and/or dengue virus infection and were included in the recent University of Colorado surveillance study conducted at FUNSALUD. But can the insidious virus also attack the still-developing brains of newborns?

The concept that prior infection with dengue might lead to more severe Zika is called antibody dependent enhancement. Study clinicians will counsel families that choose to enroll their children as participants in the study on how to best prevent Zika infection, as well as other mosquito-borne illnesses.

Aedes mosquitoes need only a small amount of standing water to breed, officials warn.

Another brief study in Emerging Infectious Diseases showed that 17 out of 21 tested members of Spain's Olympic team were negative for the Zika virus after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro despite having symptoms, suggesting there was limited risk of transmission. "We will look for neurologic or neurodevelopmental effects of Zika virus, including effects on hearing and eye problems, because we know that the virus has the potential to cause central nervous manifestations in young children". But now, the California Department of Public Health says they've found the bug in multiple California counties since 2011. Investigators also will determine how long Zika virus RNA persists in body fluids in infants and young children and in maternal breast milk.

  • Joanne Flowers