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Zika Virus Link to Microcephaly, Other Birth Defects Discussed in Teratology Society’s Special Report

Jun 29, 2016 11:11 PM EDT

The latest findings on the Zika virus and its link to defects in babies was among the topics discussed at the Teratology Society's Annual Meeting, during a Special Report session on June 29. This year's meeting, which was a gathering of birth defect researchers from around the globe, was highly anticipated due to the increasing number of reported Zika-related cases in South America, including Brazil, and in the United States.  

"Zika is an urgent emerging health issue," Dr. Tacey E. White, president of the Teratology Society, said in a statement. "There is still much we do not know about critical windows of susceptibility, mechanisms of action, and ways to mitigate risk. As the premier source for cutting-edge research and authoritative information related to birth defects, our Society is uniquely positioned to bring together clinical researchers and basic scientists to attack these issues from all sides." 

The meeting's Special Report session, titled "Exploring the Link between Zika Virus and Microcephaly," featured Dr. Lavinia Schuler-Faccini, president of Sociedade Brasileira de Genetica Medica (Brazilian Society of Medical Genetics). Schuler-Faccini led an earlier study that explored the connection between women who contracted the Zika virus while pregnant and their babies born with microcephaly, a congenital condition that results in a small head due to incomplete development of the brain. 

In tackling further research, Schuler-Faccini wanted to not only describe specific abnormalities in the brain but also other defects in affected babies such as face characteristics, abnormalities in the joints, and neurological outcomes.   

"These would help us better understand the underlying pathogenic mechanisms, as well as to clinically identify potential Zika-exposed babies of asymptomatic mothers," she said. She added that the various baby abnormalities observed "show an extreme brain disruption." 

Along with Schuler-Faccini, Sonja A. Rasmussen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was also a speaker during the event. Rasmussen is the director of CDC's Division of Public Health Information Dissemination and the vice president of the Teratology Society. 

According to the press release, there are more than 1,000 confirmed cases in South America in which babies were born with Zika-related microcephaly. This week, a woman in Florida who was exposed to the virus in Haiti gave birth to a baby with the said condition, although Reuters reports that the CDC has yet to confirm if it's Zika-related. If so, it will the fifth case in the United States. 

The Teratology Society's 56th Annual Meeting took place at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio in Texas on June 25-29.   

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