Scientists probe into link between Zika virus and Guillain-Barré

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Aline Leal reports from Agência Brasil

The number of cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) became approximately five times higher in the state of Rio de Janeiro after the Zika virus started spreading in the country. The estimate was made by neurologist Osvaldo Nascimento, a researcher at the UFF (Universidade Federal Fluminense) Medical School, which is involved in the research into the GBS-Zika link.

“Guillain-Barré syndrome remains rare. What strikes us is the fact that these patients [reporting Zika] are showing a little more serious set of symptoms, with variations of the syndrome,” he said. According to Nascimento, the incidence of GBS averaged four for every 100 thousand inhabitants every year before, and now lies about 20 to 30 for every 100 thousand.

GBS is an autoimmune reaction in the body which affects the peripheral nerves and may manifest itself in different degrees, from mild muscle weakness in some to the total paralysis of all four limbs, a rare symptom.

In a joint action with the Osvaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) and other universities, UFF is investigating into the factors that, when combined with the Zika virus, may cause GBS. “Why do some people show severe infection with Zika and come to develop the syndrome, while most present an acute viral condition, with only temporary migraines, small red patches, conjunctivitis, and joint pain?” Nascimento questioned.

In 2014, 1,439 hospital admissions for GBS were reported across Brazil in the Hospital Data System. In 2015, after the Zika virus came to the country, this figure reached 1,868.

Translated by Fabrício Ferreira

Edited by: Nádia Franco / Nira Foster