Bird flu crosses placenta: study2nd October 2007
The H5N1 strain of avian influenza can cross the placenta and infect a growing foetus, a study in China has found.
A team led by Professor Jiang Gu of the prestigious Beijing University ran extensive tests on tissue samples collected from a man and a pregnant woman who died of bird flu.
They found viral genetic material and antigens in the throat, lungs, immune system T-cells of the lymph node, brain and placenta, the team reported in The Lancet.
Some traces of the H5N1 virus were found in the lining of the intestinal tract, but no antigens, which are formed to fight invading microorganisms.
In the foetus of the dead woman, traces of viral material and antigens were found in the lungs, immune system cells, and liver.
Jiang said it was known that a pandemic outbreak of human infection with avian H5N1 currently posed a potentially serious health threat worldwide.
But little was yet known about the specific effects of the virus in organs and cells, he said.
The authors said their findings showed the capacity for human vertical transmission of the H5N1 virus, which warranted careful investigation, especially as most strains of seasonal flu are believed not to infect a baby in the womb.
They also showed that the H5N1 virus spread beyond the lungs in human infections, with implications for public health policy and healthcare providers.
Wai Fu Ng, Department of Pathology, Yan Chai Hospital, Hong Kong, China and Ka Fai To, Ki ka Shing Institute of Health Science, Hong Kong, China, wrote in a response to the article that pathological lesions might also develop in the foetus if the mother survived the bout of bird flu.
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