Another Neurological Disorder Tied to Zika
It may cause meningoencephalitis, an infection and swelling of the brain, researchers say
By Dennis Thompson
WEDNESDAY, March 9, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- The list of neurological disorders potentially associated with the Zika virus continues to grow, health officials reported Wednesday.
Writing in the March 9 online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, French researchers described the case of an unidentified 81-year-old man who had been in fine health before becoming feverish and then comatose while on a cruise in the South Pacific.
An MRI scan and a test of spinal fluid indicated he was suffering from meningoencephalitis, an infection and swelling of the brain.
The elderly cruise ship patient was admitted to an intensive care unit, where doctors were able to make a tentative diagnosis of Zika infection. Within several days, his condition began to improve without treatment, and 17 days after admission to the hospital he was removed from intensive care. By day 38, he was fully recovered, the investigators said in their report.
Previous research has suggested that the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus also appears to be linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to be born with unusually small heads and underdeveloped brains. The virus has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, an immune system disorder that can occasionally lead to a fatal form of paralysis.
The virus is suspected of causing the epidemic that began last spring in Brazil, where there have been more than 5,600 suspected or confirmed cases of microcephaly. And the virus is spreading in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The man's story and his recovery would seem to reinforce doctors' belief that Zika is most dangerous to a pregnant woman and her fetus. Only one out of every five people infected with Zika show any symptoms, and even those who fall ill usually do not suffer severe symptoms, U.S. health officials have said.
Nonetheless, the World Health Organization said in the NEJM that, despite the lack of proof linking Zika virus with neurological disorders, "the severe potential risks demand decisive, immediate action to protect public health."
The WHO recommends such preventive measures as intensive mosquito control; personal protection against mosquito bites; appropriate medical care for all patients with Guillain-Barre syndrome; and proper care for women before, during and after pregnancy.