New research has provided the strongest evidence yet that the mosquito-borne Zika virus causes the Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological condition that has infected scores across Latin America in recent months.
Research by scientists from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, released in the scientific journal The Lancet on Monday, investigated all 42 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome that occurred during a 2013 Zika outbreak in French Polynesia.
After scientists analysed blood samples from those affected they concluded that there was probable link between Zika and the syndrome.
“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 Arnaud Fontanet, lead author of the paper.
The researchers estimated that 24 people out of every 100,000 infected with the Zika virus developed GBS in French Polynesia.
The condition causes the body's immune system to attack the nervous system, causing weakness in muscles that control breathing while also spurring blood infections, lung clots, cardiac arrest and sometimes paralysis.
Only very rarely does the syndrome result in death. Fontanet said that, “within three months, 57 percents of patients were able to walk.”
Fontanet warned that areas experiencing Zika outbreaks need to prepare themselves for the influx of people who will require urgent medical attention to cure GBS.
“At the peak of the epidemic, they may have to deal with many patients in intensive care units – where they are available, because they are not available everywhere,” he told The Guardian. “They (Guillain-Barre patients) monopolized the bed for 35 days.”
“There may be two GBS patients in every 10,000 infected, but once they are in a bed, they are there for a month,” he added.
In January, Venezuela reported 252 cases of GBS occurring at the same time and place as Zika infections.
The Zika virus has been sweeping its way across Latin America since late last year, reportedly infecting 1.5 million people in Brazil alone.
The World Health Organization said in February that within the next four to six months scientists will be able to ascertain whether the virus is the direct cause of the birth defect microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads.
The Mexican government announced on Tuesday that 11 pregnant women had been diagnosed with Zika. Most of the cases were identified in the southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, according to a health ministry report.
Eight of the pregnant women are from Chiapas, two are from Oaxaca, and one is from the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, the health ministry reported.
Brazil has reportedly confirmed more than 580 cases of microcephaly, and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the mothers. Brazil is investigating more than 4,100 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.
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