Zika 'link' to new, paralysing disease: report (Update)

March 8, 2016
The Zika virus is mainly spread via the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito
The Zika virus is mainly spread via the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito

Suspected of causing brain damage in babies and a rare neurological ailment in adults, the Zika virus was linked by researchers Tuesday to a third disorder: paralysis-causing myelitis.

French experts reported that a 15-year-old girl diagnosed on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe with acute myelitis in January had high levels of Zika in her cerebrospinal fluid, blood and urine.

"This is the first published case to offer proof of a link" between myelitis and the virus sweeping Latin America and the Caribbean, Annie Lannuzel of the University Hospital Center Pointe-a-Pitre in Guadeloupe told AFP.

The case had been described in a report published by The Lancet medical journal.

"Until recently, Zika was thought to cause benign infections in humans," Lannuzel and a team wrote in the case report.

Instead, the "presence of Zika virus in the cerebrospinal fluid of our patient with acute myelitis suggests that this virus might be neurotropic"—something that attacks the nervous system.

The mosquito-borne virus usually causes mild symptoms in adults, with a low fever, headaches and joint pain, but the virus' quick spread has caused alarm due to an observed association with more serious health problems.

There have been fewer than a handful of reported cases of sexual transmission.

Last week, scientists said they had found the first evidence of a biological link between Zika and microcephaly, which causes severe deformation of the brains of unborn babies.

Laboratory tests found that Zika targeted key cells involved in brain development in the womb and then destroyed or disabled them, they said.

A separate study, also last week, offered evidence that Zika may cause Guillain-Barre, a rare condition in which the body's immune system attacks a part of the nervous system that controls muscle strength.

Myelitis is an inflammation of the spinal cord which can affect limb movement and cause paralysis by interrupting communication between the spinal cord and the rest of the body.

'Not benign'

Some patients are left with permanent damage.

There is no effective cure, and treatment general consists of cortisone injections in strong doses.

In the reported case, a teenaged girl was admitted to the Pointe-a-Pitre hospital with partial paralysis, limb weakness, and intense pain.

Nine days after the symptoms began, doctors found high levels of Zika virus in her blood, spinal fluid and urine, said a statement from France's Inserm medical research institute.

Other potential causes of myelitis were ruled out, including shingles, chicken pox, herpes and other viruses.

The girl's condition has since improved and she is now out of danger, said the statement.

"My message is that Zika does not only affect pregnant women, and is not necessarily benign," said Lannuzel.

The team underlined this was a single case, and "future studies will be needed" to determine wether Zika does indeed cause myelitis.

Brazil has been hardest hit by the Zika outbreak, with some 1.5 million people infected and 641 confirmed cases of microcephaly in children born to women infected with the virus while pregnant.

According to the World Health Organisation, 41 countries or territories have reported transmission of Zika within their borders since last year, and eight have reported an increase in Guillain-Barre cases.

A rise in microcephaly and other baby malformations has so far "only been reported in Brazil and French Polynesia", according to the WHO, which has declared this a health emergency.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika.

Explore further: WHO says will know if Zika causes microcephaly in weeks

More information: Sylvie Mécharles et al. Acute myelitis due to Zika virus infection, The Lancet (2016). DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)00644-9

Related Stories

WHO says will know if Zika causes microcephaly in weeks

February 12, 2016
The World Health Organization said Friday that it will know in a matter of weeks whether the Zika virus causes microcephaly and the severe neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Second pregnant woman diagnosed with Zika in Australia

February 12, 2016
A second pregnant woman has been diagnosed with the mosquito-borne Zika virus in Australia, officials said Friday, adding that the disease was acquired overseas and there was no public health risk.

Venezuela reports 4,700 suspected Zika cases

January 28, 2016
Venezuela has recorded 4,700 suspected cases of people infected by the Zika virus, which is thought to cause brain damage in babies, the health ministry said on Thursday.

Brazil finds Zika in microcephaly babies' brains

February 15, 2016
Brazilian researchers said Monday that the discovery of Zika in the brains of babies with microcephaly adds to growing evidence of a link between the mosquito-transmitted virus and the birth defect.

Evidence grows for Zika role in brain damage

February 11, 2016
Evidence piled up Thursday implicating the Zika virus in a surge of brain damaged babies in Latin America, with two reports of the disease found in the neural tissue of affected infants.

Zika virus: Five things to know

February 8, 2016
A concise "Five things to know about.... Zika virus infection" article for physicians highlights key points about this newly emerged virus in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Recommended for you

Anxious women may want to keep an eye on their bone health

May 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—As if older women didn't already worry enough about their bone health, new research suggests that anxiety may up their risk for fractures.

New strategy to cure chronic hepatitis B infection

May 18, 2018
Scientists from Karolinska Institutet and Hannover Medical School have published two studies that provide insights into how the immune system responds and helps to clear a hepatitis B infection after treatment interruption. ...

Blood type affects severity of diarrhea caused by E. coli

May 17, 2018
A new study shows that a kind of E. coli most associated with "travelers' diarrhea" and children in underdeveloped areas of the world causes more severe disease in people with blood type A.

Resistance to antifungal drugs could lead to disease and global food shortages

May 17, 2018
Growing levels of resistance to antifungal treatments could lead to increased disease outbreaks and affect food security around the world.

Pig immunology comes of age: Killer T cell responses to influenza

May 17, 2018
Researchers from The Pirbright Institute, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and University of Oxford have generated tools that allow scientists to understand a vital area of the pig immune system which was previously ...

How intestinal worms hinder tuberculosis vaccination

May 17, 2018
New research in mice suggests that chronic infection with intestinal worms indirectly reduces the number of cells in lymph nodes near the skin, inhibiting the immune system's response to the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.