The Zika puzzle

Experts hope large-scale study of pregnant mothers sheds light on Zika

Infants born with microcephaly are held by their mothers at a rehabilitation clinic on June 2, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. Microcephaly is a birth defect linked to the Zika virus where infants are born with abnormally small heads. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the U.S. and international researchers announced the launch of a large-scale study tracking 10,000 pregnant women across Latin America and the Caribbean from the beginning of their pregnancies through births in order to learn more about how the Zika virus affects developing infants.

While the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization have confirmed that Zika causes birth defects, the information available to experts about the virus remains very limited — there’s little to no data on whether women face different risk factors if they contract the disease earlier or later in their pregnancy, for example. By monitoring the women monthly and collecting blood and other samples, experts hope to learn more about a variety of factors that could affect outcomes for developing fetuses. “A mother’s environment may be an important part of the Zika virus puzzle,” explained Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, one of the institutes taking part in the study.

The Obama administration has diverted $500 million from other health programs to fund the study, said Dr. Tony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “However,” he cautioned, “we cannot continue or finish the study until we get additional money from Congress.” Obama had asked Congress for $1.9 billion to study and fight the disease, but was denied.

Read the full story at NBC News.

Related:

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Colombia’s surprisingly low rates of birth defects from Zika are “somewhat reassuring”

WHO suggests women in Zika-affected countries consider delaying pregnancy

Details emerge about 1st Zika-affected baby born on U.S. mainland as officials warn of oral sex transmission

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