The congenital damage caused by the Zika virus has become a real emergency in Brazil. However, a team of scholars from the University of Oxford and the University of Rio de Janeiro noted a correlation between the socio-economic conditions of the area and the severity of the damage. According to the researchers, conditions of maternal malnutrition could aggravate congenital damage in children. There could therefore be a link between nutrition and fetal malformations.
The study shows that developmental abnormalities caused by ZIKA are more severe in the presence of malnutrition. In particular, the worst damage seems to occur in the presence of a low protein diet. This may explain why the spread of the virus has such different consequences for different areas. The infection affects the stem cells of the fetal brain, changing its genes and proteins. Doing so also changes how the cells and blood vessels develop.
The researchers then tested what happens when there is a protein deficiency caused by the diet. In the case of mice infected with Zika and subjected to a low protein diet, the congenital defects have multiplied. Healthy guinea pigs in contact with the virus have proven more resistant to infection. Those undernourished, however, have proven less able to counteract the effects of the virus. For the moment, however, it is difficult to determine how many of these observations are also valid in humans.