Zika virus linked to another brain disease

Researchers have found a new connection between Zika and yet another neurological disorder, according to newly released study that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 68th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada, held from April 15 to April 21.

The new study links Zika to an autoimmune disorder that attacks the brain's myelin, much like multiple sclerosis. The disorder is called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis.

For the study, researchers kept track of people who sought treatment for symptoms compatible with arboviruses like Zika at a hospital in Recife, Brazil, from December 2014 to June 2015. They identified six people who experienced neurological problems after the infection, two of whom developed ADEM. The other four developed Guillain Barré syndrome. Tests later showed that all of the study's participants were infected with Zika and not another arbovirus like dengue.

"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," said study author Maria Lucia Brito Ferreira, MD, with Restoration Hospital in Recife, Brazil. "Much more research will need to be done to explore whether there is a causal link between Zika and these brain problems."

The World Health Organization recently confirmed an international scientific consensus that Zika is indeed connected to the birth defect microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads, and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

James Sejvar, MD, of the CDC in Atlanta and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in the release, "Of course, the remaining question is 'why' — why does Zika virus appear to have this strong association with GBS and potentially other immune/inflammatory diseases of the nervous system? Hopefully, ongoing investigations of Zika virus and immune-mediated neurologic disease will shed additional light on this important question."

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