Researchers from the Pan American Health Organization have compared rates of Guillain-Barre syndrome before and after Zika arrived in seven countries and found a strong link between Zika and Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The current Zika outbreak was first detected in Brazil last year and has since spread across the Americas and the Caribbean.
Pregnant women are at greatest risk because the Zika virus can cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly, which is marked by small head size and underdeveloped brains. In Brazil, Zika has been linked to more than 1,800 cases of microcephaly.
The first alarms over Zika occurred months before microcephaly cases emerged, as adults recovering from Zika infections appeared to have higher-than-normal rates of Guillain-Barre, an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks itself in the aftermath of an infection, typically occurring in the days following an illness.
Dr. Marcos Espinal, Director of Communicable Disease at the World Health Organization - and colleagues analyzed rates of Guillain-Barre syndrome and Zika in Bahia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Suriname and Venezuela.
They evaluated a total of 164,237 confirmed and suspected cases of Zika virus disease and 1,474 cases of Guillain-Barre and found a close association between increases in Zika cases and increases in Guillain-Barre.
Guillain-Barre increased 172% in Bahia, Brazil, which was hard hit by Zika. They saw similar increases in other countries, with Guillain-Barre cases rising 211% in Colombia, 150% in the Dominican Republic, 100% in El Salvador, 144% in Honduras, 400% in Suriname and a whopping 877% in Venezuela.
Guillain-Barre causes gradual weakness in the legs, arms and upper body, and in some cases, temporary paralysis. Patients often require intensive care and a respirator to support breathing.
Given these demands, the researchers said Zika imposes “a substantial burden” on populations in Latin America and the Caribbean, where some 500 million people are at risk.
More research on Zika and its' relationship to Guillain-Barre is needed.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome is an auto immune disorder, previously linked to flu vaccines.
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With the Zika virus moving North into the United States, Guillain-Barre Syndrome will be coming with it. Please take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family.
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