The mosquito-borne Zika virus, blamed for severe birth defects, can also trigger a debilitating neurological disorder, a new study finds.
According to the study, published in the medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday, scientists examined Zika’s alleged role in a 2013-2014 epidemic in French Polynesia of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) — a rare condition in which the body’s immune system attacks a part of the nervous system that controls muscles.
The researchers analyzed blood samples from all 42 adults diagnosed with the GBS during the outbreak and found that almost everyone had signs of a previous Zika infection.
“This is the first evidence for Zika virus causing Guillain-Barre Syndrome,” which provokes muscle weakness, the study said.
Zika’s rapid spread in over 40 countries, mostly in Latin America, has raised alarms across the world because it has been tentatively linked to a serious birth defect known as microcephaly in babies born to women who became infected while pregnant.
Microcephaly is an irreversible condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and brains and suffer damage to their cognitive and motor development.
Some 130 countries are home to the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the Zika virus.
There is currently no specific treatment for the virus and no way to prevent it other than avoiding mosquito bites.