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April 12, 2016

Researchers suspect link between Zika virus and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis

A new report presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th annual meeting suggests that the Zika virus may be responsible for the cause of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), an autoimmune disorder that attacks the brain's myelin similar to multiple sclerosis (MS).

Aedes

A new report presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th annual meeting suggests that the Zika virus may be responsible for the cause of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), an autoimmune disorder that attacks the brain’s myelin similar to multiple sclerosis (MS).

As part of the study, the researchers evaluated 151 cases with neurological manifestations during a period of December 2014 to December 2015.

Researchers analysed people at the Restoration Hospital in Recife, Brazil, from December 2014 to June 2015 with symptoms compatible with arboviruses, the family of viruses that includes Zika, dengue and chikungunya.

Blood samples were evaluated from six people with neurologic symptoms that were consistent with autoimmune disorders.

Of the six people with neurologic problems, two developed ADEM, an attack of swelling of the brain and spinal cord that attacks the myelin, which is the coating around nerve fibres.

Unlike MS, ADEM usually consists of a single, attack that most people recover from within six months. However, the disease can reoccur in some cases.

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The remaining four people developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a syndrome that involves myelin of the peripheral nervous system and has a previously reported association with the Zika virus.

"Our study may shed light on possible lingering effects the virus may be associated with in the brain."

All the participants who took part in the study had Zika virus. Tests for dengue and chikungunya were negative.

Restoration Hospital study author Maria Lucia Brito Ferreira said: "This doesn’t mean that all people infected with Zika will experience these brain problems. Of those who have nervous system problems, most do not have brain symptoms.

"However, our study may shed light on possible lingering effects the virus may be associated with in the brain."

American Academy of Neurology is an association of 30,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals.


Image: Aedes aegypti mosquito transmits the Zika virus. Photo: courtesy of James Gathany.

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