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Bird Flu May Pass to Fetus via Womb

Bird Flu Virus May Not Stay Only in the Lungs, Researchers Report
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 27, 2007 -- The H5N1 bird flu virus may be able to pass from a pregnant woman to her fetus via the womb.

That news appears in tomorrow's edition of The Lancet.

The researchers -- who included Professor Jiang Gu, MD, of the Infectious Disease Center at China's Peking University -- studied autopsy results from a Chinese woman who died of bird flu when she was about four months pregnant.

Gu and colleagues found traces of the H5N1 bird flu virus in the woman's fetus.

The pregnant woman -- and an unrelated Chinese man who also died of bird flu -- had the bird flu virus in their lungs. They also had the bird flu virus in other parts of their bodies, including their trachea, brain, and lymph system.

"In addition to the lungs, H5N1 influenza virus infects the trachea and disseminates to other organs including the brain," Gu's team writes, adding that "the virus could also be transmitted from mother to fetus across the placenta."

The new molecular techniques used by Gu and colleagues "have pitfalls," so the findings should be checked in lab tests, write Wai Fu Ng, MD, and colleagues in an editorial published with the study.

Ng works in the pathology department of Hong Kong's Royal Margaret Hospital.

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