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More Evidence Links Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Zika Virus

Pediatrician Alexia Harrist from the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) takes a picture of 3-month-old Shayde Henrique who was born with microcephaly, after examining him in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, Feb. 23, 2016.

The World Health Organization reports evidence of a suspected link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological disorder, and the Zika virus is growing, but far from proven.

Much attention is being paid to the possible association between microcephaly, which causes brain abnormalities in babies, and the Zika virus. Far less attention is being paid to a possible similar link between the virus and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder that attacks part of the nervous system and can cause muscle weakening and paralysis.

That may be changing as more evidence emerges of a causal link between the Zika virus infection and Guillain Barre. The World Health Organization reports a surge in cases along with a rise in Zika virus infections in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Suriname, Venezuela and the overseas territory of French Polynesia.

WHO mental and brain disorders expert Tarun Dua says all these places report a significant increase in the number of cases of Guillain-Barre.

“Approximately 50 to 70 percent have whatever reports are coming in from the patients that have been investigated there are symptoms consistent with Zika virus infection," said Dua.

Dua cautions against jumping to conclusions. She says more information is coming in gradually, which will help investigators identify and put together the pieces of this puzzle.

She says the Zika virus has been lab confirmed in a few cases of patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, but adds data from a large number of cases is still pending.

“Now, all this suggests that there could be a link between the surge in the Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Zika virus infection and researchers are studying to identify the causality, but it is not yet proven. And, I would say it is guilty unless proven innocent and we are really looking at and trying to understand the causality between Guillain Barre and Zika virus," she said.

WHO expert Dua says it will take a while to know what is behind the surge of this neurological disorder. She says Guillain-Barre Syndrome can be triggered by a variety of infections, including dengue and chikungunya viruses, which are circulating in the affected countries.