Researchers Trying to Find Zika Answers
There is a lot we know about Zika. For example, the most common form of transmission is through mosquito bites. We also know it can also be transmitted sexually. What we don’t know is how the virus itself manages to harm babies in the womb. Sure, we know Zika can cause microcephaly in babies. What we don’t know is how and why. Researchers are currently working as hard as they can to find the answers.
The maddening thing about the Zika virus is that it seems to find its way into the amniotic sac, where it can infect the baby. You see, the mother’s body has multiple natural defense mechanisms in place to prevent viruses from getting to a baby in the womb. And in nearly every other case, those defense mechanisms work flawlessly. But Zika seems to circumvent some of them. The trick is finding out which ones are being circumvented.
Figuring out how Zika gets to the baby in the womb is the subject of an intriguing study that was recently published in the Cell Host and Microbe journal. This study looked at two specific strains of the Zika virus – one from Africa and the other from Latin America. Study results were positive in the sense that both may have uncovered different pathways the virus takes on its way to infecting the baby in the womb.
A Lot More to Learn
I will not attempt to go through the details of both studies here, but let me give you an overview. One of the possible pathways researchers found are uterine structures known as chorionic villi. These structures act as anchors to keep the placenta fixed to the uterus wall in the early stages of pregnancy. Research suggests that the Zika virus might be capable of attaching itself to the structures by infecting chorionic villi cells. The placental barrier cells that usually protect the womb by releasing antiviral molecules are ineffective because the virus can lodge itself in the placental wall where it remains safe.
Another potential pathway during the second trimester of pregnancy may be the amniochorionic membrane that eventually forms the amniotic sac. The cells that make up the membrane can be infected with the Zika virus under certain conditions. That would mean Zika could then travel into the sac where it can subsequently infect the developing baby.
Researchers were quick to note that their observations are by no means conclusive. There could be other pathways they have not discovered, or the two they think they have discovered could turn out to be false alarms. We have a lot more to learn before we figure out the mechanisms that make the Zika virus so problematic.
Practice a Healthy Lifestyle
Even as researchers are working quickly to figure out the mechanisms behind Zika, the best advice we in the naturopathic community can offer patients is to do their best to practice a healthy lifestyle in every way possible. A healthy lifestyle is no guarantee that a person will not get sick, but it does reduce the risks of contracting certain kinds of illnesses. And even when a person does get sick, a healthy lifestyle keeps the body in better shape to combat whatever is causing the illness.
Hopefully, we will have more answers than questions regarding Zika in the very near future. In the meantime, we encourage you to learn as much as you can about how to live a healthy lifestyle. If you live locally, we would be more than happy to welcome you to our naturopathic healing center in the Portland area.