Zika Virus May Be Linked to Brain Disease

APRIL 18, 2016
Amy Jacob
The Zika virus, the latest virus to warrant public health concerns, could be associated with an autoimmune disorder similar to multiple sclerosis.
Research discovered the infection has neurological manifestations, specifically those that attack myelin surrounding the brain.
A recent study involved patients who checked into the Restoration Hospital from December 2014 to June 2015 with fever and rashes, and some also experienced severe itching, muscle and joint pain, and red eyes, symptoms similar to arboviruses in the flavivirus class.
Findings showed six people developed neurological symptoms consistent with autoimmune disorders. The study authors followed 151 cases with neurological manifestations during December 2014-2015.
Interestingly, two of the six patients developed acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), and brain scans showed signs of damage to the brain’s white matter.
How is this different from MS?
Contrary to MS, ADEM typically consists of a single attack that fortunately most patients recover from within six months. However, some cases involve disease recurrence.
Furthermore, four of the patients developed Guillain-Barreé syndrome (GBS) – a syndrome previously reported to be associated with the Zika virus.
According to the study, five of the six patients experienced trouble with motor functioning, one had vision problems, and another had issues with memory and thinking skills.
Tests confirmed all six patients had the Zika virus, but the verdict is still out on dengue and chikungunya.
Researchers highlighted that this doesn’t mean all patients infected with the Zika virus would experience the same brain problems. However, it is too important not to consider the relationship.
Ferreira hopes this study would pave the road to understanding the link between the virus and other neurological problems.
According to Maria Lucia Brito Ferreira, MD, Restoration Hospital in Recife, Brazil, “Though our study is small, it may provide evidence that in this case the virus has different effects on the brain than those identified in current studies. Much more research will need to be done to explore whether there is a causal link between Zika and these brain problems.”
Although ADEM cases are not occurring at a similarly high incidence as the GBS cases, these findings from Brazil do suggest that healthcare professionals should be wary of the possible occurrence of ADEM and other immune-mediated illnesses of the central nervous system.
Findings from the study were presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

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