Health officials say nerve disorder cases linked to Zika virus

Nearly 100 Colombians suffering with rare nerve disorder also have symptoms of mosquito-borne Zika virus, Colombian health officials say

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Feb 17, 2016


About 100 Colombian patients diagnosed with a rare nerve disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome have also shown symptoms of the Zika virus, Colombia’s National Health Institute says.  

Three deaths have been reported following the link between Guillain-Barre syndrome and the Zika virus. It is the first time health officials believe the Zika virus could cause deaths.

"We have confirmed and attributed three deaths to Zika," Martha Lucia Ospina, head of Colombia's National Health Institute said on Feb. 5.

"In this case, the three deaths were preceded by Guillain-Barre syndrome," she added.

According to the Colombian Health Minister, Alejandro Gaviria, the Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome have a "causal connection" with death.

Guillain-Barre is a rare disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the nervous system and damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.

Deaths due to Guillain-Barre syndrome are rare and the symptoms can last for a few weeks or months, however the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that permanent damage has also been reported.

Guillain-Barre syndrome has significantly increased as the Zika virus spreads, especially in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Suriname and Venezuela the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Colombia reports an average of 242 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome a year, but reported 86 cases in five weeks, leading up to Jan. 30, 2016. People of all ages can be affected, but it is more common in adults and in males, the WHO says.

Health organisations know little about Zika so far and a vaccine has yet to be created.

Scientists are trying to discover the possible links between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome in order to decide if a Zika patient has a higher risk at contracting Guillain-Barre then a non Zika patient.

"We do not know if Zika virus infection causes GBS [Guillain-Barre syndrome]. It is difficult to determine if any particular germ "causes" GBS," the CDC says on its website.

A CDC team will visit Colombia this week to investigate the link between the diseases.

Colombia is proved to be the most affected country by the Zika virus.

So far, more than 25,000 people have been infected, while more than 300 of the infected are pregnant women.

Although the Zika virus generally causes mild, flu-like symptoms, often lasting for up to one week, the virus has also been linked to thousands of suspected birth defects.

The WHO called for an international health emergency on Feb.1.

Microcephaly on pregnant women has raised concerns about Zika’s involvement on the condition of the fetus.

The potential link between the virus and microcephaly in children is being investigated in Brazil, where more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported.

TRTWorld, Reuters