Authors: Alice Weatherston
New research, set to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting (15–21 April 2016, BC, Canada) that commences this week, will indicate that the Zika virus may also be associated with an autoimmune disorder that attacks brain myelin in a mechanism similar to Multiple Sclerosis. The study was lead by Maria Lucia Brito Ferreira from the Restoration Hospital (Recife, Brazil) and provides further information on the neurological consequences of the virus, which has already been linked to microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
“Though our study is small, it may provide evidence that in this case the virus has different effects on the brain than those identified in current studies,” commented Ferreira.
The study investigated individuals with symptoms compatible with arboviruses, which include Zika, dengue and chikungunya, who were treated in the Restoration Hospital between December 2014 and June 2015. All patients exhibited fever followed by rash, with some also experiencing muscle and joint pain, itching and red eyes.
Of these patients, six went on to develop neurologic symptoms consistent with those of autoimmune disorders and consequently underwent clinical examination and blood tests. All were eventually confirmed as being infected with the Zika virus.
Of the six patients with neurologic problems, two developed acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), with damage to the white matter exhibited in both cases. Four patients developed Guillain-Barré syndrome.
After being discharged from the hospital, five of the six patients with neurologic symptoms still experienced issues with motor functioning, some others also had problems with vision, memory and general cognitive functioning.
“This doesn’t mean that all people infected with Zika will experience these brain problems. Of those who have nervous system problems, most do not have brain symptoms,” explained Ferreira. “However, our study may shed light on possible lingering effects the virus may be associated with in the brain.”
Currently there is no evidence to support ADEM cases occurring at a similar rate to cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, however the findings of this small study suggest that clinicians should be aware of ADEM as a possible consequence of the virus that was classified as a Global Health Emergency by the World Health Organization in February this year.
Ferreira reinforced: “Much more research will need to be done to explore whether there is a causal link between Zika and these brain problems.”
Source: American Academy of Neurology press release