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October 6, 2016

Researchers find biological evidence linking Zika infection with Guillain-Barré syndrome

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, in collaboration with scientists from the six Colombian hospitals, report that there is strong biological evidence linking the Zika virus infection with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, in collaboration with scientists from the six Colombian hospitals, report that there is strong biological evidence linking the Zika virus infection with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The syndrome is a rare but potentially paralysing disorder of the nervous system, appearing days to weeks after an infection with viruses or bacteria.

It occurs when a person’s own immune system attacks the myelin sheaths that protect the body’s nerve cells, often leading to muscle weakness, pain, sensory deficiencies and, in some serious cases, paralysis.

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine associate professor of neurology and pathology Carlos Pardo said: “At the beginning of the Zika outbreak in South America, my colleagues in Colombia contacted me with concern about the increasing number of patients with neurological complications in their hospitals.”

"According to Pardo, the study is the largest of its kind to document the role of the Zika infection in increased rates of Guillain-Barré so far."

Guillain-Barré impacts one or two out of 100,000 people after infections.

It is diagnosed with electrodiagnostic neurological tests that measure the conductive speed and activity of nerve signals.

Scientists are yet to understand why it strikes some people and not others.

For the new study, Pardo’s team developed strategies with scientists in Colombia to analyse patients with suspected neurological problems linked with Zika and offered tools for viral tests of blood, cerebrospinal fluid and urine samples from 68 people showing with symptoms of Guillain-Barré.

Out of the 68 patients initially analysed in Colombia, virus and immunology studies were conducted using the body fluids from 42 patients.

Following some evaluation, scientists found urine to be the most reliable fluid to diagnose Zika infection in patients with Guillain-Barré. Seventeen patients tested positive for Zika virus in their urine while another 18 had no evidence of the Zika virus in urine but showed the immunologic footprints of its infection due to the presence of virus-specific antibodies in their blood or spinal fluid.

Most of the patients were adults, with approximately 38 males, and 30 females at an average age of 47.

Almost all patients displayed clinical symptoms of Zika, including fever, headache, rash and conjunctivitis.

Scientists claim that almost one-half of the study participants complained of neurologic symptoms within four days of the onset of Zika symptoms.

According to Pardo, the study is the largest of its kind to document the role of the Zika infection in increased rates of Guillain-Barré so far. He has, however, cautioned that though the study indicates a biological and viral link between Zika infection and Guillain-Barré, it does not reveal the biological mechanisms whereby Zika might initiate an immune attack on the nerves.

This study was funded by the Bart McLean Fund for Neuroimmunology Research, Johns Hopkins Project Restore, VIREM, the Virology Laboratory Fund and the Department of Microbiology at the Universidad de Valle.

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