A pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage which may be linked to the Zika virus, scientists claim.
Zika virus is known to cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with underdeveloped heads and brains.
Ever since a Zika virus outbreak in Brazil was linked to severe birth defects late last year, health experts have been trying to understand when developing foetuses are most vulnerable.
Until now, the link to miscarriage has not been clear.
The symptoms had begun the day after she had returned from a three-and-a-half week trip to Suriname.
During the holiday, she had not used malaria tablets or insect repellents.
She recovered after six days, but around two weeks later she went for a routine prenatal screening and medics couldn’t find a heartbeat.
More than 1.6 million pregnant women could catch Zika in Latin America before the epidemic burns out.
That is a modest estimate of the global reach of the virus reseachers said.
Recent studies have predicted that Zika’s aggressive spread will diminish within three years as human immune systems adapt to the infection.
But the study, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, shows there could be another 90 million infections – at least – before the current epidemic fades.
In Latin America alone, that means at least 1.6 million women of child-bearing age are vulnerable to catching the infection.
And Rio de Janeiro is one of the highest-risk cities in the continent, it revealed.
A week later she underwent a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure to remove tissue from inside of her womb.
An array of tests revealed the Zika virus was present in her amniotic fluid, placental tissue, urine and blood.
They also found traces of Zika in foetal stem cells.
Dr Annemiek van der Eijk, of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands said: ‘Our observation indicates that the Zika virus replicates in cells involved in early-stage embryo development.’
The study cannot prove that contracting Zika caused the woman’s miscarriage, it can only show a link.
However, as the virus was found in the patient after 21 days, the window for testing a pregnant woman for the virus may need to be expanded, the researchers said.
A recent study sought to discover at which stage of their pregnancy women who catch Zika are most at risk of giving birth to a baby with microcephaly.
It found those infected late in their pregnancies had babies with no apparent birth defects.
The greatest risk to infants comes from infection early in pregnancy, the research seemed to confirm.
It found troubling cases of severe birth defects in babies born to women who never realised they had contracted Zika – and had no symptoms.
The 31-year-old woman caught Zika after a trip to Suriname, which borders Brazil – where Zika is rife. The virus was found in her blood, urine, amniotic fluid and in foetal cells (file photo)
The Zika virus is spread mainly through the bite of a tropical mosquito, the Aedes Aegypti – but can also be spread sexually as the virus can live for months in semen.
And studies showing Zika can also survive in saliva raised concerns the virus could be passed through kissing or sharing cutlery or toothbrushes with people who are infected.
Most people with the virus never develop symptoms. Others get a fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes, and recover within a week.
There is no vaccine so in outbreak areas, the main defense is to avoid mosquito bites.
Brazil, which has suffered the largest outbreak of Zika, has had more than 500 cases of Zika-linked microcephaly, a severe birth defect in which a baby’s skull is much smaller than expected because the brain hasn’t developed properly.
Zika virus is known to cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with underdeveloped heads and brains. Pictured is a Brazilian mother whose baby was born with microcephaly