Zika and Guillain-Barré Syndrome may be linked, according to research conducted by doctors at Institut Pasteur in Paris. The study, which was published in The Lancet, suggests patients with Zika virus could develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome at a later date. However, it is unclear specifically how the disease and syndrome are linked.
The Zika virus was first identified in a rhesus macaque monkey in Uganda’s Zika forest in 1947. Five years later, the first human cases were diagnosed in Uganda and Nigeria.
— CDC (@CDCgov) February 29, 2016
As explained by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika is most commonly spread to humans by the Aedes mosquito. Although it is rare, the disease can also be spread through blood transfusions, sexual contact, and from a mother to her fetus during pregnancy.
A majority of patients who contract the Zika virus never experience any symptoms. However, an estimated one in five will develop symptoms within one week of contracting the virus.
Common symptoms include fever, headache, joint pain, and muscle pain. Although a vast majority of patients fully recover from the illness, it may cause severe birth defects and has been linked to at least three deaths. Doctors at Institut Pasteur in Paris may have also linked Zika and Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 1, 2016
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines Guillain-Barré Syndrome as “a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.”
Initial symptoms include weakness and a tingling sensation in the limbs. In some cases, the symptoms progress until the patient is completely paralyzed. In rare cases, the syndrome can lead to death.
It is unclear what specifically causes the syndrome. However, it has been linked to dengue and chikungunya viruses, which are similar to Zika virus.
Zika and Guillain-Barré Syndrome were linked following a study of 42 Guillain-Barré patients at the Centre Hospitalier de Polynésie Française. The results suggest a vast majority of the patients were infected with Zika prior to being diagnosed, and hospitalized with, the syndrome.
“41 (98%) patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome had anti-Zika virus IgM or IgG, and all (100%) had neutralizing antibodies against Zika virus… 37 (88%) had experienced a transient illness in a median of 6 days… before the onset of neurological symptoms, suggesting recent Zika virus infection.”
The study was conducted between October 2013 and April 2014 when French Polynesia was in the midst of a serious Zika virus outbreak.
Although the researchers admitted “no clear pathophysiological mechanism for the Guillain-Barré syndrome could be identified,” they concluded “that Zika virus should be added to the list of infectious pathogens susceptible to cause Guillain-Barré syndrome.”
The researchers also suggested that “at risk countries need to be prepared to have adequate intensive care beds capacity to manage patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome.”
Thankfully, none of the study participants died from the Zika virus infection or Guillain-Barré syndrome. However, the researchers noted the syndrome appeared to have “a rapid onset and short plateau phase” compared to patients who were not infected with Zika prior to their Guillain-Barré diagnosis.
Between 1954 and 2015, Zika virus outbreaks were confined to Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. However, in May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization confirmed the virus had spread to Brazil.
In the last year, the Zika virus was also detected in America Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The virus was also reported within the United States. However, health officials believe those individuals contracted the virus while traveling outside the United States.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) February 26, 2016
The link between Zika and Guillain-Barré Syndrome was not conclusively proven. However, researchers believe there is enough evidence to suggest the Zika virus may trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome.
[Image via Anest/Shutterstock]