GUARDIAN (UK) – Scientists have amassed the strongest evidence yet that the Zika virus can cause the serious neurological condition Guillain-Barré syndrome, and are warning that the potential number of cases of the paralysing illness could overwhelm the intensive care wards of Latin America.
The surge in the number of people with Guillain-Barré had been linked to Zika only on the basis of the timing – the cases have come to light as the viral infection has swept through Brazil and Colombia.
But now a paper in the Lancet medical journal from scientists who have investigated all 42 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) that occurred during an earlier Zika outbreak in French Polynesia provides the strongest evidence yet that the virus was the trigger.
Scientists from the Pasteur Institute in Paris analysed blood samples from those affected. “Most of the patients with GBS reported they had experienced symptoms of Zika virus infection on average six days before any neurological symptoms, and all carried Zika virus antibodies,” said Prof Arnaud Fontanet, the lead author of the paper.
They estimate that 24 people in every 100,000 infected with the Zika virus developed Guillain-Barré in French Polynesia, developing the muscle weakness that can progress to paralysis and involve the use of a ventilator to allow the patient to keep breathing. On the positive side, they found that once the acute phase was over, patients got better faster than usual. “Within three months, 57% of patients were able to walk,” said Fontanet.