Zika Virus May be a Risk Factor for Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome identified Zika virus infection as a risk factor
(Zika News)

An examination of Guillain-Barré Syndrome cases in Puerto Rico have identified the Zika virus as a risk factor, according to a study published by JAMA.

With assistance from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Puerto Rico Department of Health (PRDH) found evidence of Zika virus infection in 34 (61%) reported GBS cases between January 1–July 31, 2016.

"The finding adds to growing evidence of a causal association between Zika virus and GBS," the authors wrote.

“During Zika virus outbreaks, clinical suspicion should be elevated to improve GBS patient prognosis through prompt diagnosis and treatment,” reported these researchers.

This small, case-control study, lead by Emilio Dirlikov, Ph.D., identified three GBS risk factors:

  • acute illness in the previous 2 months,
  • laboratory evidence of Zika virus infection, and
  • acute Zika virus infection confirmed by RT-PCR (reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction) testing.

The CDC says most cases of GBS tend to occur for no known reason, and true “clusters” of cases of GBS are very unusual.

"The pathophysiology of Zika virus infection and risk factors for developing GBS require further investigation" the authors write.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome is an uncommon autoimmune disorder characterized by progressive weakness and diminished deep tendon reflexes following infection.

These symptoms can last a few weeks or several months. Most people fully recover from GBS, though some people have permanent damage.  

Very few people die from GBS, according to the CDC.

“During Zika virus outbreaks, clinical suspicion should be elevated to improve GBS patient prognosis through prompt diagnosis and treatment," the authors write.

Because of the ongoing Zika virus epidemic in Puerto Rico, the CDC Issued a Level Two Travel Alert, recommending pregnant women not travel to Puerto Rico.

According to the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Report, among the women infected during their first trimester of pregnancy, 8 percent had babies with Zika-associated birth defects.

Because there is no vaccine or medicine for Zika, travelers should take steps to prevent getting Zika during travel, and to prevent spreading it when they return to the USA.

These researchers did not disclose any conflicts: Emilio Dirlikov, PhD; Nicole A. Medina, MPH, Chelsea G. Major, MPH,; Jorge L. Munoz-Jordan, PhD Carlos A. Luciano, MD;Brenda Rivera-Garcia, DVM; Tyler M. Sharp, PhD.