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Why Do Zika-Infected Babies Born In São Paulo Suffer Less?

A new study found that dozens of São Paulo women infected with Zika gave birth to babies without Microcephaly. Researchers are trying to trace the difference in the effects of the disease in different regions.

Zika testing centers in Sao Paulo last year
Zika testing centers in Sao Paulo last year
Reinaldo José Lopes

SÃO PAULO — At least 55 pregnant women in Brazil who were infected with the Zika virus have given birth to babies without microcephaly, which the virus usually inflicts upon newborns, a new study has revealed.

Among the children born to these mothers, all from the state of São Paulo, 28% still suffer from some neurological alteration, but the symptoms are much less severe than those detected among babies born of infected mothers in the country's northeast region or in Rio de Janeiro. "We've had none of the very serious symptoms we used to observe," says virologist Maurício Lacerda Nogueira from the Faculty of Medicine of São José do Rio Preto who coordinated study. "This is the first time that we have managed to compare data from two different populations affected by the Zika virus in a reliable way."

There are no doubts about the Zika virus' capacity to affect the development of the brain during pregnancy. Experiments carried out in laboratories and on animals have already demonstrated that the Zika virus has a special "preference" for attacking neural stem cells.

When the Zika epidemic first reached the northeast region in 2015, researchers weren't able to conduct studies on most of the infected pregnant women and were only able to understand the effects that the virus had on babies. The first such results came in 2016, when scientists from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro observed a group of 125 pregnant women infected with the virus. In that group, about 40% of the babies were born with serious problems affecting their nervous system, 7.2% died in pregnancy, and four children were born with microcephaly. In comparison, among the São Paulo group of 55 women, not only were neurological issues much less critical, but there were no miscarriages and not a single case of microcephaly.

The obvious question when comparing the data is what could have led to such different results. "There is a co-factor acting together with the Zika virus, but we don't know which one yet," says study coordinator Lacerda Nogueira. He believes there's very little chance that a genetic difference would explain the higher vulnerability of mothers and babies in the northeast region. Another possibility would be the greater incidence of other infections, such as syphilis or toxoplasmosis, that might have led to fetal malformations among the Northeastern mothers .

Beyond that, scientists don't yet know how previous infections from dengue or Chikungunya virus, both "cousins' of Zika, might weaken or exacerbate the reaction of the mother's body to the new invader. It could also be that the mother's nutrition and general health has an effect on the virus, and that poverty is an aggravating factor.

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Ideas

Absolute Free Speech Is A Recipe For Violence: Notes From Paris For Monsieur Musk

Elon Musk bought Twitter in the name of absolute freedom. But numerous research shows that social media hate speech leads to actual violence. Musk and others running social networks need to strike a balance.

Absolute Free Speech Is A Recipe For Violence: Notes From Paris For Monsieur Musk

Freedom on social networks can result in insults and defamation

Jean-Marc Vittori

-Analysis-

PARIS — Elon Musk is the world's leading reckless driver. The ever unpredictable CEO of Tesla and SpaceX is now behind a very different wheel as the new head of Twitter.

He began by banning remote work before slightly backtracking and authorizing it for the company’s “significant contributors.” Now he’s opened the door to Donald Trump to return to Twitter, while at the same time vaunting a decrease in the number of hate-messages that appear on the social network…all while firing Twitter’s content moderation teams.

But this time, the world’s richest man will have to make choices. He’ll have to limit his otherwise unconditional love of free speech. “Freedom consists of being able to do everything that does not harm others,” proclaimed the French-born Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789.

Yet freedom on social networks results not only in insults and defamation, but sometimes also in physical aggression.

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