The Zika virus might be more complicated than we initially thought. A new study suggests that it might be linked with another disease: an autoimmune disorder that affects the brain. The paper will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology this week.
Previous studies linked Zika with microcephaly, a condition characterised by smaller brains in babies. The new research provides insight into how the virus might be generating additional effects on the brain, as pointed out by study author, Maria Lucia Brito Ferreira, from Restoration Hospital, Brazil.
More analysis will need to be done to confirm whether Zika is actually associated with the brain problems.
Ferreira and her team came to this conclusion after they followed patients showing symptoms representative of arboviruses which include Zika, Dengue, and chikungunya viruses. Many of these patients were found to have developed neurological symptoms; 151 such cases were identified in one year. Six of them had neurologic problems, two of whom developed acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), whereby the myelin coating nerve cells is affected. Furthermore, four of the people eventually had Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), which is characterised by an affected peripheral nervous system’s myelin. Interestingly, GBS has been linked with Zika in the past.
Further tests showed that the patients all had one thing in common: they were infected with Zika.
The findings thus suggest that Zika virus might be linked with these conditions; the lingering effects of the virus might be much more than we thought. However, not every single person infected with the virus will develop these brain conditions, says Ferreira.
If Zika is indeed associated with these diseases, why does this happen? How is it apparently linked with immune and inflammatory diseases pertaining to the nervous system? The researchers are positive ongoing studies will help provide answers. Meanwhile, clinicians should be vigilant for the possibility of these diseases in relation to Zika, says James Sejvar, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.