Zika Virus Tied to Disorder That Can Cause Paralysis
But researchers found that nearly two-thirds of study cases walked again within 3 months
By Steven Reinberg
MONDAY, Feb. 29, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- The Zika virus may cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the nervous system, new research suggests.
Blood samples from 42 patients diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome during a Zika virus outbreak in French Polynesia provide the first hard evidence that the mosquito-borne Zika virus might cause this severe neurological disorder, researchers said.
"The risk for a Zika-infected individual of developing Guillain-Barre syndrome is small -- less than [one] case per 1,000 Zika infections. So, individuals with acute Zika infection should not be greatly alarmed by the fear of developing of Guillain-Barre syndrome," said researcher Dr. Hugh Willison. He's a professor of neurology at the University of Glasgow College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences in Scotland.
The study can't prove cause-and-effect, but as Zika cases increase, health officials need to plan to deal with the rise in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome as well, he said.
Zika virus infections in pregnant women have been linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, a condition in which the brain and skull are significantly underdeveloped. Since the Zika epidemic began last spring, it's believed there have been more than 5,600 suspected or confirmed cases of microcephaly in Brazil, the World Health Organization reported Friday.
"Since Zika infection may affect millions of persons, there will be a surge of Guillain-Barre syndrome cases for health services to cope with, even though the risk is small," Willison added.
Despite the new findings, one expert said "it is difficult to conclusively prove Zika virus infection in all of these patients, because many also had been infected with the closely related dengue virus, which is common in French Polynesia. And interpretation of the antibody tests was difficult," said David Smith, a clinical professor at the University of Western Australia in Perth.
"We need to look closely at future cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome occurring in Zika-affected areas to gather more data so we can better estimate the risk," Smith said.