Curtin Uni professor plays key role in Zika virus study

Gareth Baynam leads the facial recognition team at Curtin, technology that can be used to diagnose genetic abnormalities. Picture: Mal Bruce
Gareth Baynam leads the facial recognition team at Curtin, technology that can be used to diagnose genetic abnormalities. Picture: Mal Bruce

CURTIN University professor Gareth Baynam played a key role in an Australian-first study to determine the prevalence of microcephaly, in preparation of any future outbreak of the Zika virus.

Microcephaly, a birth defect in which a baby is born with a smaller than expected head, has been linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus that has recently spread to the Pacific Islands and through parts of the Americas.

The study found an average of five cases of microcephaly in every 10,000 births in WA over the study period.

Microcephaly has a range of causes other than Zika including genetic conditions, metabolic diseases and exposure to certain medications, infections or alcohol during pregnancy.

Lead author Dr Michele Hansen from the Telethon Kids Institute said it was important for Australia to have baseline data on microcephaly rates, so that health authorities could effectively monitor any future local outbreak of the Zika virus.

“More than 2.2 billion people live in areas where Zika virus infection is a risk and local transmission has recently been reported in Singapore and other common travel destinations for Australians,” Dr Hansen said.

“Although local transmission of Zika virus has not yet been reported in Australia, the risk of that happening is real.

She said a species of mosquito found in northern and central Queensland was known to spread the disease and travellers returning from overseas, who had been infected with Zika, could infect local mosquitoes and cause an outbreak.

Dr Baynam who heads the facial recognition team at Curtin and who was the senior author of the study, said technology could be used to assist diagnosis of genetic conditions such as microcephaly.

The study was led by the Telethon Kids Institute and was published in the Medical Journal of Australia on May 1.

MORE: Man sent to prison for indecent assault of teen girls in Warnbro

MORE: Police issue mail theft warning

MORE: Midland Gate ready to welcome opening of Timezone