Zika Virus Found for 1st Time in Brain Tissue of Fetus With Microcephaly: Study

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David Henrique Ferreira, 5 months, who was born with microcephaly, is held by his mother, Mylene Helena Ferreira, as they wait to see a doctor on Feb. 1, 2016, in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded thousands of cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. (Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The Zika virus, thought to be responsible for a surge in birth defects in Brazil, has been found inside the abnormally small brain of an aborted fetus at roughly 29 weeks of gestation, a team of researchers reported Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

An autopsy of the aborted fetus revealed a brain that had virtually none of the folds and convolutions that would usually be seen on the brain’s surface in a fetus at that point in its development. Calcium deposits were evident throughout the brain’s white matter–the tissue that connects neurons and brain regions to one another. And in several places, those calcifications displaced developing cortical matter.

The calcium deposits “resembled destroyed neuronal structures,” the researchers said.

The case, described by a team of pathologists, microbiologists and maternal-fetal medicine specialists at Slovenia’s University of Ljubljana, is the first published finding of Zika virus directly in brain tissue. Other, unpublished, findings have suggested scientists have found Zika in cerebrospinal fluid.

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