"Zika can affect development of the skull, but also disrupts the communication between the crest and the developing brain," said Catherine Blish, associate professor of medicine at Stanford University.
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The finding, reported today in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, offers a possible understanding of why children born with the virus can have smaller-than-average skulls and disproportionate facial features. Curing the birth defect is still a remote possibility.
"You can't undo the development that has been done, but you can treat certain symptoms if you understand the reason for the symptoms," said Rachel Greenberg, a graduate student at Stanford and a co-author on the new paper. "If you understand that multiple tissues are affected, you don't just treat as only the brain is being infected."
There are several promising vaccine candidates in the works, but each one has different potential risks for pregnant mothers, according to Fauci, who is publishing a paper in today's New England Journal of Medicine outlining a strategy for the vaccine trials.