BY LILY REISINGER
Recent news headlines regarding Zika parade photos of mothers with microcephalic babies, demonstrating the visible consequences of Zika infection during pregnancy. Because of these detrimental deficits, most Zika prevention campaigns have been aimed at preventing infection via sexual transmission as well as during pregnancy. With women in the spotlight, men generally feel that they are free from Zika’s most severe prognoses; Zika fever is typically mild and limited to a fever, perhaps rashes, joint pain, and red eyes. However, a recent discovery has provided evidence that Zika virus can cause harmful outcomes for everyone—not just women and their unborn children.
Zika virus can cause harmful outcomes for everyone—not just women and their unborn children.
Said evidence points to Guillain-Barré syndrome as a side-effect of the virus. Cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome more than tripled in areas struck with Zika epidemics. Health officials, including members of the Pan American Health Organization in Washington D.C. and the Brazilian Ministry of Health, outlined their concerns in a letter to The New England Journal of Medicine.
According to these officials, “During the weeks of Zika virus transmission, there were significant increases in the incidence of the Guillain-Barré syndrome, as compared with the pre-Zika virus baseline incidence, in (Brazil’s) Bahia State (an increase of 172 percent), Colombia (211 percent), the Dominican Republic (150 percent), El Salvador (100 percent), Honduras (144 percent), Suriname (400 percent), and Venezuela (877 percent).” “When the incidence of Zika virus disease increased, so did the incidence of the Guillain-Barré syndrome”—a markedly strong case for causality.
Doctors are confident that Zika virus triggers the onset of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition characterized by “a little understood reaction in which the immune system attacks the nerves” that results in severe paralysis, although temporary. Paralysis is potentially fatal; epidemiologist Brenda Rivera reported that a Costa Rican man died from a Zika-related Guillain-Barré case. “What does this tell us? That all of us are susceptible,” Rivera preaches as she advises that Puerto Ricans take precautionary measures to avoid the mosquito-borne virus.
A World Health Organization report published on November 3rd states that no countries or territories reported “Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) cases associated with Zika virus infection for the first time in the past week.” This should not discredit the fact that “nineteen countries and territories have reported an increased incidence of GBS and/or laboratory confirmation of a Zika virus infection among GBS cases. Guatemala, which has previously reported GBS cases with confirmed Zika virus infections, has reported an increase in incidence of GBS cases in the last week.”
Currently, there are no available treatments to prevent Zika-induced Guillain-Barré syndrome. However, health officials advise “watching for Guillain-Barré cases might be one way to spot Zika outbreaks.” While there have been no reported instances of Zika-induced Guillain-Barré in the United States, people must be aware of this risk and take the necessary precautions.