The sudden and rampant outbreak of Zika virus in 2016 terrified pregnant women, particularly those residing in Zika-endemic regions, such as Brazil, as well as those in the U.S. Their fear was justified given the link between Zika virus infection during pregnancy with having a small head, a condition known as microcephaly, and other congenital defects.
The absence of early prenatal diagnosis, or treatment, for birth defects has left thousands of mothers-to-be worrying about their baby’s well-being. Others, meanwhile, have terminated their pregnancy rather than risk having a child with birth defects.
Our research revolves around mosquito-borne viruses such as Chikungunya virus and Zika virus. Each causes a distinct set of symptoms. Chikungunya virus produces debilitating persistent joint pain in adults and neurological symptoms in children; Zika virus causes defects in babies. In Jae Jung’s lab at the University of Southern California, we are investigating the mechanisms that underlie the devastating consequences of these viral infections and developing new prenatal diagnostic tests to determine whether Zika babies are in good health.