Zika virus causes Guillain-Barré syndrome

Zika Guillain BarréAfter concerns that the Zika virus causes birth defects, there is some evidence in a report published today that Zika exposure can cause the Guillain-Barré syndrome. This is a neurological disorder that is very rare (1 to 2 cases per 100,000 persons every year) but it can be life-threatening and usually severe. The main symptoms are rapid-onset muscle weakness and, in even less cases, heart failure and death. This disorder could be triggered by an infection such as bites from mosquitoes Aedes aegyptii carrying the Zika virus. In case of  severe weakness, treatment with intravenous immunoglobulins will allow recovery in most of the cases. The potential link between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barré comes from a previous outbreak in 2013 in French Polynesia, where almost all 42 patients with Guillain-Barré were infected with Zika. The Scientists who wrote the paper in The Lancet said that “This is the first study providing evidence for Zika virus infection causing Guillain-Barré syndrome. Because Zika virus is spreading rapidly across the Americas, at risk countries need to prepare for adequate intensive care beds capacity to manage patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome“. Of note, based on the cases reported in French Polynesia, they calculated that for 100,000 persons infected with Zika, 24 could develop the syndrome, which is 10 times more than the rate reported so far. If this discovery is confirmed by other groups of scientists in the coming weeks, then more people should be worried about Zika because it’s no more a threat only for woman who are getting pregnant. Travelling to Latin America could become a concern for everyone. However, it should be reminded that the Zika disease itself is generally not dangerous i.e. only 20% of infected people have symptoms such which mild fever and joint pain. In conclusion, more research needs to be done to prove the link and, importantly,  generally people who develop the Guillain-Barré syndrome recover from it.

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