The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) announced on Wednesday, Aug. 31, that it has discovered compelling evidence that could prove the Zika virus is strongly connected with an increased prevalence of the paralyzing disorder known as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS).
In a study featured in the journal The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Marcos Espinal and his colleagues at PAHO analyzed medical data collected from seven countries where Zika outbreaks have recently been detected. They found that these areas also experienced a significant increase in the number of patients suffering from temporary paralysis.
The researchers examined a total of 164,237 patients with confirmed and suspected Zika infections as well as 1,474 patients with GBS, whose symptoms began to show from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016.
Their findings showed that as soon as Zika outbreaks in one country declined, the incidence of GBS started to wane as well. This suggests a strong relationship between increases in Zika infection cases and increases in GBS cases.
Compared to figures from before the start of the Zika outbreaks, GBS rates rose by as much as 172 percent in Bahia, one of the states in Brazil that was hit the hardest by the mosquito-borne disease.
Espinal and his team also discovered similar increases in Guillain-Barré incidence in other countries. Venezuela recorded an 877 percent increase, Suriname had a 400 percent increase, Colombia had a 211 percent increase, the Dominican Republic had a 150 percent, Honduras had a 144 percent increase and El Salvador had a 100 percent increase in GBS rates.
Meanwhile, the researchers weren't able to find any links between GBS and dengue, another mosquito-borne disease long suspected of contributing to the increase in rates.
While the new findings point to a strong connection between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome, the researchers said additional studies are needed in order to confirm direct causation.
People who develop Guillain-Barré syndrome tend to experience a gradual weakening in their upper body, arms and legs. There are also cases where the patient also experiences temporary paralysis as a result of the condition.
Those who have GBS are often placed under intensive care and provided with a respirator to help them with their breathing.
GBS patients require a significant amount of care, which is why Espinal and his colleagues believe that the recent outbreaks of Zika are placing "a substantial burden" on people living in affected countries.
Cases of Zika infection were first detected in Brazil in 2015, but it has since spread to the Caribbean and other countries in the Americas. The disease has also been detected in Singapore and Thailand in Asia.