The mystery link between Zika virus and neurological problems continues to deepen as more and more cases of microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) are being linked to Zika-exposed patients.
To say that experts are now forming a consensus that the two neurological disorders have become the forefront ailments of Zika is not surprising. To add to that, recent documentations of other nerve cell impairments such as meningitis, encephalitis and myelitis are also increasing among people exposed to the virus.
Zika Virus: Spreading And Changing
nalysis shows that Zika virus has become a widespread disease. Moreover, the disease seems to be evolving more and more, deviating distantly to how it was previously looked at by experts.
Two main things caused experts to focus on microcephaly and GBS when talking about Zika virus. The first one is the once unnoticed characteristics of the virus that seem to unravel as the disease spreads to larger populations. The second is the more apparent evolution of the virus based on new disorders detected.
“What we’re seeing are the consequences of this virus turning from the African strain to a pandemic strain,” says Dr. Peter Hotez from the Baylor College of Medicine.
Focus On Microcephaly
Microcephaly was first associated with Zika virus when autopsy reports showed the virus reproducing in the brain tissues of the aborted and stillborn babies.
Experts also discovered other anomalies possibly linked with Zika including brain injury, fetal growth delay, placental inadequacy and fetal deaths.
Medical experts are also thinking about the potential hidden consequences of being exposed to Zika virus while babies are still in the womb. Such consequences include learning difficulties and behavioral problems, which cannot be detected at birth.
Dr. Alberto de la Vega from San Juan’s University Hospital in Puerto Rico says that if a virus can cause microcephaly, then it can most likely cause a wide array of other conditions that experts may not have been able to understand yet.
Focus On Guillain-Barre Syndrome
GBS was first included in Zika discussions during a 2013 outbreak in French Polynesia. During that time, approximately 32,000 individuals were affected by the virus and 42 patients were diagnosed with GBS. WHO said that this number represents a 20-fold increase in incidence in the past four years.
GBS is an autoimmune disorder, meaning the body attacks itself as a consequence of infection. The rare condition causes one to suffer from temporary paralysis, weak muscles and inability to breathe naturally, thus requiring respirators.
The mystery creeps in as the new brain and spinal cord infection detected are recognized to have been caused by a different process – a direct attack on the nervous system cells. This then made experts think that the virus may also directly infect adult nerves as they have once suspected in babies.
In a recent paper (PDF) submitted to the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Mary Kay Kindhauser and colleagues aimed to identify the distribution of Zika virus and its associated neurological problems from 1947 to February 2016.
The team devised a timeline of Zika reports based on literature searches made via PubMed and by looking at the formal notifications to WHO.
In the end, the authors concluded that Zika virus looks to have changed its characteristics while becoming widespread geographically. The infection has gone from an African strain to a global phenomenon affecting larger populations since 2007. Most importantly, they noted that Zika virus has been linked with microcephaly, GBS and other neurological disorders across the Americas and in the Pacific.
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