Zika Linked to Paralyzing Myelitis

Virus might be neurotropic, scientists say

French researchers have linked the Zika virus to the paralyzing disorder myelitis, according to a report posted on the Medical Xpress website. Zika virus infection is already suspected of causing microcephaly and brain damage in infants and Guillain–Barré syndrome in adults.

A 15-year-old girl diagnosed with acute myelitis in January had high levels of Zika virus in her cerebrospinal fluid, blood, and urine, said Dr. Annie Lannuzel of the University Hospital Center Pointe-a-Pitre in Guadeloupe.

“This is the first published case to offer proof of a link” between myelitis and the virus sweeping Latin America and the Caribbean, she told the global news agency AFP.

“The presence of Zika virus in the cerebrospinal fluid of our patient with acute myelitis suggests that this virus might be neurotropic,” Lannuzel and her team wrote in a report published in the Lancet.

Zika usually causes mild symptoms in adults, with a low fever, headaches, and joint pain, but the virus’ quick spread has raised worldwide alarm because of an observed association with more-serious health conditions. Last week, scientists found the first evidence of a biologic link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, a severe deformation of the brains of unborn infants. Laboratory tests found that Zika targeted key cells involved in brain development and then destroyed or disabled them, the scientists said.

Also last week, researchers taking part in a different study offered evidence that Zika can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare condition in which the body’s immune system attacks a part of the nervous system that controls muscle strength.

Myelitis is an inflammation of the spinal cord that can affect limb movement and cause paralysis.

In the reported case, a teenaged girl was admitted to the Pointe-a-Pitre hospital with partial paralysis, limb weakness, and intense pain. Nine days after the symptoms began, doctors found high levels of Zika virus in her blood, spinal fluid, and urine, according to a statement from France’s INSERM medical research institute. Other potential causes of myelitis were ruled out, including shingles, chicken pox, and herpes virus.

The girl’s condition has since improved, and she is now out of danger, the statement said.

“My message is that Zika does not affect only pregnant women and is not necessarily benign,” Lannuzel said.

Source: Medical Xpress; March 8, 2016.