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Pitt Researchers Study Tropical Mosquito-Borne Virus Linked To Miscarriage, Stillbirth In Animals

Matt Nemeth
90.5 WESA

Rift Valley Fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, infecting people and livestock. This tropical disease so far has only been found in the Middle East and Africa, though the types of mosquitoes that carry Rift Valley are found around the globe. One of which, the Aedes, lives in North America.

“The range of where the disease occurs is dependent on the mosquito,” said the University of Pittsburgh's Amy L. Hartman, a virologist who studies emerging infectious diseases. “Climate change can contribute to changes in the geographical location of where the mosquito vector and the viruses are found.”

In livestock, Rift Valley has resulted in so-called “abortion storms” where clusters of animals miscarry or have stillbirths. Limited epidemiological data and some research suggests the virus can also affect developing human fetuses.

Hartman, along with first author Cynthia McMillen, chose to study’s Rift Valley’s effects on pregnant rats, since humans and rats have similar placental structures.

They found that 65 percent of pups in the Pitt experiment born to infected rats died, even when the mother rats appeared healthy. That’s compared to only 25 percent pups dying that were born to rats that were not infected.

However, Hartman said she doesn’t want people to panic.

“Rats are not people,” she said. “But through our collective experience with Zika, we’d be remiss not to keep a close eye on women infected with Rift Valley Fever.”

The Pan American Health Organization reports that since 2015, 3,720 babies were been born in the Americas with congenital defects associated with Zika.

The World Health Organization said in February that research on Rift Valley should be prioritized due to possibility of an epidemic. Other diseases the WHO is particularly concerned about include not only Zika, but Ebola and Lassa Fever

The study was published in the journal "Science Advances."

90.5 WESA recieves funding from Pitt.