Swiss doctors have made a call to thousands of colleagues worldwide to provide data for the first global registry of women exposed to Zika.

There are potentially thousands of pregnant women who are affected by Zika worldwide.

Dr David Baud, a Physician in the Obstetrics Research unit of the University Hospital in Lausanne, says such a database is urgently needed to better understand the virus and how it is transmitted.

Since the Zika outbreak across South America in 2015, the mosquito-borne virus has been linked to birth defects and is suspected to trigger neurological disorders and potential neurological and auto-immune complications.

As of early August 2016, 65 countries have reported mosquito-borne transmission in the last 20 months.

Initially thought to be spread only via the blood-sucking insects, Zika is now thought to be conveyed through sex and blood transfusions as well. But much remains unknown.

“Does sexual transmission to a pregnant woman also induce foetal abnormality? Why do some babies develop abnormalities while others don’t? Who is at risk? The only way to answer these questions is with big data, which can reveal otherwise hidden patterns,” said Dr Baud.

Estimates vary widely, for example, as to what percentage of foetuses of women infected with Zika during the first trimester are at a risk of microcephaly, characterised by brain damage and small heads.

The new online registry gathers data on the general health of the women, blood profiles, medications taken, exposure to different viruses, and other relevant factors.

To encourage contributions, Dr Baud has promised that doctors who participate will be listed as co-authors in future journal articles. He would publish preliminary findings after his team had information for 100 women, but that the statistically significant threshold for new findings is 1,000.

Currently, there are details on only 160 pregnancies exposed to Zika that can be found in scientific literature, making it difficult or impossible for researchers to make comparisons, says Dr Baud.

Research on French Polynesia, hit by Zika in 2013, put the odds at one in a hundred, while another study from Brazil – the country hit hardest by the epidemic so far – concluded that the risk was twice that high.

Yet another team of scientists reported foetal problems in 29% of women exposed to Zika during their pregnancies.

More than 4,000 gynaecologists and obstetricians have already provided anonymised patient data using standardised online forms.

The US reported its first locally transmitted cases of Zika in Florida in July 2016 while US health authorities recently declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico due to the outbreak of Zika, which has now infected more than 10,000 people.

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