Published online 3 October 2007 | Nature 449, 521 (2007) | doi:10.1038/449521e

News in Brief

Bird-flu virus can pass from mother to unborn child

Chinese and US scientists have found for the first time that the H5N1 avian flu virus can pass across the placenta and infect unborn children.

The autopsies of a pregnant woman and a man, reported last week (J. Gu et al. Lancet 370 , 1137–1145; 2007), also confirm that infection with the H5N1 virus affects multiple organs, and is not restricted to the respiratory system as is seasonal human flu.

Autopsies of H5N1 victims are rare, as corpses tend to be disposed of quickly. At least three reports, however, have shown that H5N1 infection in humans can affect the brain and multiple organs, which probably explains the high pathogenicity of the virus. 

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