TUESDAY, July 11, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- A malaria drug protected mice fetuses from the Zika virus, researchers report.
In humans, Zika infection during pregnancy can cause severe brain damage in infants.
In this study with pregnant mice, investigators found that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine prevented Zika from crossing the placenta.
"We found that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine effectively blocks viral transmission to the fetus," said senior author Indira Mysorekar. She's an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and of pathology and immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
"This drug already is used in pregnant women to treat malaria, and we suggest that it warrants evaluation in primates and women to diminish the risks of Zika infection and disease in developing fetuses," Mysorekar said in a school news release.
Even though hydroxychloroquine has been used safely in pregnant women for short periods of time, the researchers said further studies are needed before it can be used in pregnant women to protect their fetuses against Zika. Research involving animals often fails to produce similar results in humans.
Pregnant women living in areas with Zika may need to take the drug throughout their pregnancy. Right now, the long-term safety of the drug is unknown.
"We would urge caution but nevertheless feel our study provides new avenues for feasible therapeutic interventions," said Mysorekar, who is also co-director of the university's Center for Reproductive Health Sciences.
The study was published July 10 in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on Zika.