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How the Zika Virus Tricks Pregnant Women’s Immune System

How the Zika Virus Tricks Pregnant Women’s Immune System

The Zika virus has been a problem for all people traveling to infested areas for quite some time now. The virus has been even more troublesome for pregnant travelers or women who travel and are looking to become pregnant. The Zika virus has been known to trick the immune system of pregnant women, with heightened dangers during the woman’s first trimester.

According to Jae Jung, the chair of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, “We found that the Asian Zika virus evolved to use the mother’s immune system to infect and ultimately cause congenital disease.”

The virus can target specific white blood cells. When this happens, the immune system response of the woman is hindered. This means that the virus tricks the pregnant woman’s immune system so much early on in the pregnancy, that it spreads to the fetus. This explains why babies born of women with the virus tend to have birth defects caused by the virus.

The immune system of the body is in place to attack invaders that can cause sickness. A pregnant woman’s immune system is already weakened in an effort to protect the fetus from such a response, which is why pregnant women are more prone to viruses during pregnancy. A pregnant woman who contracts the Zika virus will suffer an even weaker immune system than those who don’t.

Jung led a study that involved 30 healthy people between the ages of 18 to 39. The researchers took blood samples from all 30 of these participants. The group included pregnant women, men, and women who were not pregnant at the time of the blood samples being drawn. All of the samples were infected with the Zika virus, both the Asian strain and the African strain, and compared to five blood samples from healthy pregnant women and 30 women who were identified as having the Zika virus.

Jung and the research team found that the virus targeted specific white blood cells when they compared the blood samples of the infected nonpregnant and pregnant women. The specific white blood cells targeted turn into large cells known as macrophages. These cells are known for clearing out cell debris after they engulf other cells.

The macrophages turned into M2 macrophages because of the Zika virus. The M2 macrophages think that the body is already healing, which in turn leads to the shutdown of the immune system response. Because these cells are tricked, the virus can continue to grow and spread in the body of the pregnant woman, eventually reaching the fetus. Other research has found that the virus replicates thousands of times in the brains of fetuses and the placenta. The research from Jung’s team found that the Asian strain of the Zika virus did more damage to the blood samples than the African strain of the virus.

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