CDC Eyes Zika Link to Guillain-Barre Syndrome in Puerto Rico

Experts hope to catch outbreak early

Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are heading to Puerto Rico to determine whether the mosquito-borne Zika virus is linked to an increase in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, as the outbreak intensifies in that U.S. territory.

“Right now we’re focusing on Puerto Rico, where we’ve just started seeing cases of Zika as well as cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome,” CDC neuroepidemiologist Dr. James Sejvar told Reuters. “In order to get ahead of the curve, we’re going to try to rapidly establish active surveillance for Guillain-Barre in Puerto Rico in the hopes that we’re catching the outbreak early.”

On February 5, the government of Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency, with 22 confirmed cases of Zika virus infection.

Sejvar recently conducted a retrospective study of Guillain-Barre in Brazil, looking at cases that occurred six months earlier. In that study, researchers enrolled 41 patients who developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, and 85 people of similar ages who did not develop the disorder. They found “an unexplained higher incidence in relatively younger individuals,” Sejvar said, striking individuals in their 40s, although older individuals were the largest group to develop the disorder.

Most studies of Guillain-Barre have suggested that by six months, more than half of patients would have recovered. But in the Brazil study, nearly 85% of the patients with Guillain-Barre still had motor deficits or weakness.

The study in Puerto Rico will gather information at the beginning of Guillain-Barre and will compare outcomes with those of similar individuals who did not develop the illness. It is hoped that the new data will give researchers a better idea of the clinical characteristics of cases of Guillain-Barre that follow Zika infections.

Source: Reuters; February 10, 2016.