Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Study finds increase in temporary paralysis accompanied Zika outbreaks

In seven countries that recently experienced Zika outbreaks, there were also sharp increases in the numbers of people suffering from a form of temporary paralysis, researchers reported Wednesday.

The analysis, published online in the New England Journal of Medicine, adds to substantial evidence that Zika infections — even asymptomatic ones — may bring on a paralysis called Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The syndrome can be caused by a number of other factors, including infection with other viruses. Researchers studying the Zika epidemic in French Polynesia had estimated that roughly 1 in 4,000 people infected with the virus could develop the syndrome.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that the Zika virus is "strongly associated" with Guillain-Barré, but has stopped short of declaring it a cause of the condition.

The new data suggest a telling pattern: Each country in the study saw unusual increases in Guillain-Barré that coincided with peaks in Zika infections, the researchers concluded.

"It's pretty obvious that in all seven sites there is a clear relationship," said Dr. Marcos A. Espinal, the study's lead author and the director of communicable diseases at the Pan American Health Organization, which collected data on confirmed and suspected cases of Zika infection and on the incidence of Guillain-Barré. "Something is going on."

In Venezuela, officials expected roughly 70 cases of Guillain-Barré from December 2015 to the end of March 2016, as mosquitoes were spreading the virus. Instead, there were 684 cases.

Similarly, during five months in which the Zika virus was circulating in Colombia, officials recorded 320 cases of Guillain-Barré when there should have been about 100. From September 2015 to March 2016, while Zika infections peaked in El Salvador, cases of Guillain-Barré doubled to 184 from 92.

The researchers included patients with both suspected and confirmed Zika infections, as reported by national health officials.

Dr. Kenneth C. Gorson, professor of neurology at Tufts University School of Medicine, who was not involved with the new analysis, called it compelling.

"This is a substantial public health burden for countries that may not have well-developed health systems in place," he said. "They have to have enough ventilators and ICU beds." About one-third of patients with Guillain-Barré require breathing assistance, he said.

Over all, Espinal and his authors found increases in Guillain-Barré that were two to 10 times what would normally be expected. Roughly 500 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean are at risk for Zika virus infection, so even modest increases in the incidence of Guillain-Barré are worrisome.

"Countries need to have health services prepared because this data suggests Guillain-Barré syndrome is closely associated with Zika virus," Espinal said. "And Zika virus is not going away tomorrow."

The nations in the study included the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Suriname, Venezuela and Colombia, along with the state of Bahia in Brazil. (National data from Brazil was not available until February 2016.)

Collectively, they reported a total of nearly 1,500 cases of temporary paralysis. The reported incidence was 28 percent higher for men and increased with age for both sexes, in line with previous research.

Temporary paralysis is a potential neurological complication of dengue infection, too. But Espinal and his colleagues looked for a similar link to dengue and found none.

Gorson noted that the continental United States has no formal monitoring system for Guillain-Barré. As the number of Zika cases in Florida and elsewhere increases, he said, "you won't know if a Guillain-Barré case is related to Zika infection."

"We can do it," he said of such surveillance. But "there's no funding from Congress to do it."

Study finds increase in temporary paralysis accompanied Zika outbreaks 09/01/16 [Last modified: Thursday, September 1, 2016 1:50am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, New York Times.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald team up to cool down the Clearwater Jazz Holiday

    Blogs

    A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.

    Kenny Loggins performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Oct. 21, 2017.
  2. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  3. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  5. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)

    Nation

    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102