On Thursday, September 27 researchers from Columbia and Peking Universities reported that the H5N1 avian flu virus can be transmitted through a pregnant woman's placenta and infect the fetus. Researchers found viral genetic material in the four-month old fetus of a 24 year old pregnant woman killed by H5N1 in China. Researchers had previously believed that human influzenza could not pass through the placenta and affect unborn babies.
Samples taken from the pregnant woman and a 35 year old man, another victim of H5N1 in China, revealed viral genetic material not only in the lungs (as expected), but also in the GI tract, brain, liver, and blood cells. The disproportional amount of damage found in the organs compared to the number of cells that were infected supports the theory of a "cytokine storm", where the immune system overreacts to the virus and sends out a swarm of signaling chemicals that end up overwhelming and killing the patient.
H5N1 typically infects birds, but out of the 328 people infected since 2003, 200 have died.
You can find the full article here:
Source: Reuters Foundation AlertNet [edited]