The threat that Zika virus has posed, as it rapidly spreads across the Americas, has chiefly been linked to an alarming amount of birth defects, but now physicians are beginning to suspect that the virus is causing another epidemic as well, one that affects persons of all ages. The paralysis inducing disorder known as Guillain-Barre has seen an upsurge in the amount of persons diagnosed with it in areas where Zika is making its presence felt.
Guillain-Barre can be quite a frightening auto immune disorder as it forces the body to attack the body’s own nervous system as if it were an infection to be fought off and in some damages the nerves to the point where the body is unable to communicate with the brain. The result is the rapid breakdown of fine motor skills accompanied by tingling, then weakness then eventual numbness of the arms and legs as sufferers begin to lose the use of their limbs, and even their ability to speak. In certain rare cases, a ventilator may be required to keep the patient alive and in even rarer but very frightening cases, Macau Daily Times reports that one in 20 persons diagnosed with the condition, die from it. Guillain-Barre is the leading cause of general paraysis in the Western world.
According to the World Health Organization, cases of Guillain-Barre are on the rise in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Suriname, and Venezuela, all of which have been hit especially hard by the Zika virus. Reports are also suggesting that the city of Turbo, Columbia, has known the greatest struggle against the mosquito-borne virus due to the subsequent development of the debilitating Guillain-Barre disorder, though its precise link to Zika is still unclear. Historically, the auto-immune disorder only affected about one or two persons in 100,000, in fact doctors in Turbo state that they only saw about one per year, if that, before Zika.
In Turbo, the past six weeks, have brought about five very severe cases of the condition and three of those patients have already died as a result. The fourth person is currently fighting for their life in an intensive care unit while the fifth, a 10-year-old girl, lost the ability to move her legs a week ago. The previous images associated with the risks of catching Zika have all been related to babies with undersized heads and varying degrees of nerve damage diagnosed with microcephaly.
Many fear that these images have led many to believe that there are no risks to anyone else in relation to catching the virus and this is certainly not the case as more and more patients with the signs of Zika – headaches, bloodshot eyes and itchy, red pockmarks stream into hospitals across the Central Americas.
The Washington Post has relayed that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have actually confirmed two cases of Guillain-Barre related to Zika in the United States, thought they have not released any details about the two patients. In Colombia, more than 30,000 citizens have thus far been diagnosed with Zika and over 97 cases linked to Guillain-Barre. Countries such as Brazil, El Salvador, Suriname and Venezuela have also reported a surge in the disorder. Back in 2013 an outbreak of Zika in French Polynesia saw 42 patients develop Guillain-Barre after their Zika diagnosis. Tarun Dua, a neurologist at the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that in every country affected by Zika, an upsurge of Guillain-Barre has also been identified.
The first Zika patient to begin suffering from paralysis in Turbo had died within a few short weeks after developing catching the Zika virus and then falling quick prey to Guillain-Barre. Eliana Uribe, 41, collapsed from weak legs a few days after Zika and was rushed to the hospital before having breathing issues after losing control of her tongue and facial muscles two days later. The hospital was ill equipped to care for Uribe and she was moved to a bigger one. In another few days, she had died and her family left with little comfort as they utter the words, “They didn’t tell us you can die from it.”
Combating Zika is a challenge for many but those from poorer countries are disproportionately affected as they simply do not have the resources to manage the crisis as many do not even have the resources to fumigate the neighbourhoods that will most likely be affected; Turbo is one such place.
[Photo Courtesy of Victor Moriyama/Getty Images]