A rare neurological disease known as Guillain-Barré Syndrome has been identified as the cause of death of two individuals infected with the Zika virus in the Dominican Republic.
Last week, the Toronto Metro newspaper reported that the Dominican Republic had recorded two new deaths related to the neurological disorder known as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). There have now been a total of six individuals who have died from this syndrome, the majority of whom were in their 60’s. It is believed that the development of GBS in these individuals is correlated with the Zika virus.
Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes of the species Aedes, and may also be transmitted sexually. A mosquito that takes blood from an infected person can then transmit the virus to an uninfected person when they feed again. It has been found that the virus can persist in male semen, thus increasing the risk of transmitting the virus sexually.
The virus typically manifests itself as mild symptoms such as rashes, red eyes, joint pain, and fever. These symptoms are usually benign and rarely require hospitalization. The main concern has been for pregnant women, as the virus can cause microcephaly; the development of an abnormally small head of the fetus, as well as other birth defects.
The recent report from the Dominican Republic, however, has begun to shed light on the potential neurological affects this virus can have on others. GBS is a neurological disease that results from the degradation of neurons; this degradation reduces their functioning. Symptoms can vary from mild tingling and reduced limb function to complete paralysis of the respiratory system. In these more extreme cases, 1 in 20 incidences result in death. In more mild forms, however, recovery can happen, and typically occurs within 6 months to 2 years.
GBS has not only been correlated with Zika. This syndrome can occur as a result of a variety of different microbial infections from illnesses such as the flu and food poisoning. While the exact cause of GBS remains unknown, it is believed that it results from an immune response to the microbe which then proceeds to go unregulated, resulting in the body’s immune system attacking its own neurons.
According to the CDC website, the Brazil Ministry of Health has seen an increase in the number of people with Zika, who also have GBS. They claim it is likely that the Zika virus is the cause of GBS in a small proportion of these infections. While GBS is rare, with roughly 1-2 individuals afflicted per 100,000, its prevalence in association with individuals infected with Zika will need to be monitored as time progresses.
Written By: Nicole Pinto, HBSc