(CN) - A potential connection between the Zika virus and stillbirths adds another dimension to the danger that the virus may pose to pregnant women and their infants, according to a study released Thursday.
The journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases published the work of Dr. Albert Ko and Dr. Antonio Raimundo de Almeida, after the pair investigated the case of a Brazilian woman infected with the virus who gave birth to a stillborn baby in January 2016.
Their findings showed that the fetus' brain was absent, a condition known as hydranencephaly. Abnormal pools of fluid were also found in different parts of the fetus, the study said.
The findings document the first case of damage to fetal tissues outside of the central nervous system that may be caused by Zika. Microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome each impact the central nervous system, and while these conditions have also been linked to the virus no connection has been confirmed.
"These findings raise concerns that the virus may cause severe damage to fetuses leading to stillbirths and may be associated with effects other than those seen in the central nervous system," Ko said in a statement.
Microcephaly results in reduced head size, as well as potential brain damage and death, while Guillain-Barre can cause paralysis and has been associated with five deaths in Colombia. Three of those cases involved individuals who had been infected with Zika.
Ko, who chairs the Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases at Yale University, has worked in Salvador, Brazil, studying the outbreak of Zika since mid-2015. He believes the excess accumulation of fluids in fetal compartments, known as hydrops fetalis, is related to the virus.
"Additional work is needed to understand if this is an isolated finding and to confirm whether Zika virus can actually cause hydrops fetalis," Ko said.
The woman's pregnancy was progressing normally until the 18th week. An ultrasound at that point revealed that the fetus' weight was far below normal.
She did not report any of the symptoms commonly associated with Zika, including aches, fever or rashes.
Her fetus had a range of birth defects by the 30th week of the pregnancy, and labor was ultimately induced at the 32nd week. Doctors found Zika in the fetus afterward, the same strain of the virus observed in other confirmed cases of infection in Brazil, according to the statement.
Further analysis is needed to determine if this strain can cause other potential birth defects and issues, the researchers said.
There have been more than 580 confirmed cases of microcephaly in Brazil, as well as 4,100 suspected cases that are still being investigated.