WHO: Neurological Disorder Rising in Zika Zones
But U.N. health agency says too soon to prove link between Guillain-Barre syndrome and Zika-causing mosquitoes
By Dennis Thompson
MONDAY, Feb. 15, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- More cases of the rare but potentially devastating neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome are appearing in some Latin American countries where the Zika virus is also present, according to the World Health Organization.
The United Nations-affiliated health group said in a weekly report Saturday that Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis, has been reported in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Suriname and Venezuela, the Associated Press reported.
But, the WHO added, the "cause of the increase in GBS (Guillain-Barre syndrome) incidence . . . remains unknown, especially as dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus have all been circulating simultaneously in the Americas."
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disorder that causes the immune system to attack the peripheral nervous system. As a result, muscles have trouble responding to signals from the brain. No one knows what causes the syndrome. Sometimes it is triggered by an infection, surgery, or a vaccination.
Patients typically reach the point of greatest weakness or paralysis days or weeks after the first symptoms. The symptoms then stabilize for a period of days, weeks, or even months. The recovery period may be as little as a few weeks or as long as a few years, according to the NIH.
Meanwhile, U.S. health officials began shipping test kits for the Zika virus late last week to health departments around the country. They are to be used by pregnant women returning from Latin America and the Caribbean, where the virus may be to blame for severe birth defects.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also recommending that pregnant women avoid those regions of Central and South America and the Caribbean where Zika virus has been identified and officials have described it as spreading "explosively."
So far, the epidemic has seemingly been limited to Brazil. It is suspected -- but not proven -- that the virus is to blame for a birth defect called microcephaly that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and possible brain damage.