Zika, an arbovirus in the same family as West Nile and Dengue, is perhaps most infamous for the 2016 epidemic that spread across the Pacific Ocean to the Americas and made global headlines. Zika poses a major threat to pregnant women, due to its potential to spread to the fetus which can lead to a myriad of birth defects in the infant. During the 2016 epidemic, Nicaragua experienced a massive Zika outbreak with a study from the National Academy of Sciences showing that 46% of the general population was infected with the virus during a three month period! Nicaraguan samples and data collected by SSI continues to support numerous studies of Zika immunology and diagnostics, and are in use by health organizations around the globe.
SSI is currently running three Zika studies in Nicaragua which are presently in the infant follow-up phase:
Zika in Infants and Pregnancy (ZIP)
Zika Virus Positive Pregnant Women and their Infants (NZP)
Outcomes of Zika in Pregnancy (ZPO)
Zika screening is facilitated thanks to the highly sensitive and specific ZIKV NS1-BOB serological assay, which was developed by SSI. Infants are are evaluated for anthropometric and neurological parameters, hearing problems and general neurodevelopment from birth to 2 years of age. So far 5,218 evaluations have been implemented for pregnant women and 3,978 for infants. They have detected 21 cases of microcelphaly and 16 cases of abnormal neurodevelopment with respect to age.
An upcoming study in collaboration with Dr Elizabeth Stringer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will follow children who were born to Zika positive women through 5 years of age and monitored for potential neurological, oftalmic auditory or other zika-related sequelae.
Overall, these studies allow SSI to asses the impact of the Zika epidemic on pregnant women and their infants in Nicaragua. Future information exchange with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health facilitates improved care for affected mothers and children and helps better prepare for a future epidemic.