NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — For months, the main concern surrounding the Zika virus has been for pregnant women, because the virus can have devastating birth defects.
But now, scientists have found a strong link between Zika and a type of paralysis in adults.
“I feel that there is a sense of urgency,” said Dr. Carlos Pardo at John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Pardo led the team that made several key connections in Colombia between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). The very rare disorder of the nervous system can appear days to weeks after a viral or bacterial infections, and it can leave patients with muscle weakness, pain and sometimes paralysis, Dr. Max Gomez reports.
“We want to stop the spread and we want to help patients,” Pardo said.
The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at nearly 70 patients from Colombia, where the mosquito-borne virus is rapidly spreading.
It found that patients can develop GBS symptoms very quickly after being infected with Zika, weeks sooner than usual. It also found many patients who contracted the neurological disorder, previously had other mosquito-borne viruses like dengue fever.
“Those patients were the most susceptible patients for developing Guillian-Barre syndrome,” Pardo said.
Dr. Paula Barreras Cortes started working with the under-funded Colombian scientists after the alarming spike in neurological cases a year ago.
“It would have been very challenging to conduct a study like this,” she said. “Sometimes these antibodies or things that they use to conduct the testing are very, very expensive.”
While it’s not clear how Zika leads to GBS, the virus does seem to have an affinity for nerve cells, especially in developing brains.
While the link is concerning, experts remind people that GBS is still a very rare complication from Zika or any other virus. They also say that most patients will recover from the weakness and paralysis of GBS.