In addition to causing neurological disorders like microcephaly and other complications during pregnancy, Zika can also cause temporary paralysis. One more thing to worry about with the mosquitos on their way this summer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been instances where Zika has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) which is a very rare nervous system issues where the patient's immune system damages nerve cells, muscle weakness, and sometimes paralysis.
This is very rare, so don't start having nightmares yet. In fact, the CDC estimates that "clusters" of GBS are few and far between, with only about 3,000 to 6,000 people developing it every year. That being said, there still is a possible connection between Zika and GBS. In Brazil, the health ministry has reported that GBS was found in at least a handful of Zika patients. Likewise, in French Polynesia, there have been 42 cases of GBS in Zika patients. According to the CDC, GBS is possibly triggered by Zika symptoms and they are currently investigating the connection between the two illnesses.
Luckily, GBS is temporary. The symptoms include weakness in limbs on the same side of the body. Usually, eye movement, swallowing and breathing become difficult as well. People with GBS generally need a breathing tube for assistance.
Thankfully, doctors commonly treat GBS with a plasma exchange, which separates red blood cells from plasma and helps to create antibodies, or just giving patients a cocktail of antibodies from donors. It's pretty serious stuff.
The symptoms usually last for (probably the scariest) few weeks or twenty days. Most patients recover fully. According to health officials, some are left with lasting nerve damage, though no one really ever dies from it. But anytime you're talking about temporary paralysis, it can be a little alarming — especially because the effects of Zika and links to birth defects and pregnancy complications, while known, have not been totally explored. And the link to GBS is still just a working theory — it's worth noting that Zika patients in Brazil and in other parts of the world have been developing it.
"It is just a possible connection, an association. We have yet to see this association be proved," Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious diseases specialist at North Shore University Hospital, in Manhasset, New York told CBS News recently. "But this report is very important and has implications for any person involved in the areas in which Zika virus is going on."
Whatever the case, it's worth taking Zika seriously if side effects like paralysis are at play. Let's hope health officials and governments can step up the research and funding. Soon.