NICHD investigates how Zika virus infection affects reproductive health, pregnancy, the developing fetus, and the health of children exposed to Zika virus in the womb. NICHD's priority areas on Zika virus research are outlined in an NIH guide notice for researchers.
Filling information gaps will require basic and clinical research, including the following types of studies:
- Large, long-term studies of pregnant women in areas of active Zika virus transmission to measure outcomes such as fetal loss/miscarriage, stillbirth, microcephaly, ventriculomegaly (an enlargement of brain ventricles), and eye abnormalities among fetuses and infants.
- Evaluation of how additional factors may influence outcomes, such as the stage of pregnancy when Zika virus exposure occurs. As with other infections, Zika infections that occur in the first trimester may affect the fetus the most because the majority of fetal development takes place during this time. However, studies of pregnant women with symptomatic Zika virus infection suggest that fetal anomalies can develop even when infection occurs in the second or third trimesters.
- Laboratory and animal research to examine how Zika virus infection causes birth defects, whether and how infection affects gene function and development of the nervous system, and how the virus may influence or change maternal and placental tissue.
- Analyses of existing banked samples (e.g., blood, breast milk, etc.) from previous studies of pregnant women in Zika-endemic areas to determine how Zika infection may have affected the outcomes.
Zika Research Meeting
NICHD hosted a workshop, Bridging Knowledge Gaps to Understand How ZIKV Exposure and Infection Affects Child Development, to identify optimal approaches to treat and care for the generation of children exposed to Zika virus (ZIKV) in the womb.