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Mar 01, 2016 10:39 AM EST

Zika virus may cause Guillain-Barre syndrome

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A new study reveals that scientists may have the first evidence that Zika can cause temporary paralysis, Fox News reports.

The scientists have derived this evidence from a new study of patients who developed the condition during an outbreak of the virus in Tahiti two years ago.

The research was published online Monday in the journal Lancet.

"Most of the patients with GBS reported they had experienced symptoms of Zika virus infection on average 6 days before any neurological symptoms, and all carried Zika virus antibodies," said lead author Arnaud Fontanet from the Paris-based Institut Pasteur in a press release, according to Livemint.

Scientists are suspicious that the Zika virus may be the reason it for a surge in disturbing birth defects and in Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological illness that mostly lasts a few weeks.

Researchers in Tahiti, France and other places analyzed blood samples from 42 adults diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome from the 2013-14 outbreak in French Polynesia, with nearly all the patients showing signs of a previous Zika infection.

"The evidence that links Zika virus with Guillain-Barre syndrome is now substantially more compelling," said Peter Barlow, an infectious diseases expert at Edinburgh Napier University who was not part of the study.

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's immune system attacks the nervous system, often for unknown reasons. It can cause muscle weakness and breathing problems.

The researchers also studied whether Guillain-Barre was the result of people being infected with both Zika and dengue, by comparing them with people who had Zika but no neurological symptoms.

The scientists estimated that of 100,000 people with Zika, about 24 would develop Guillain-Barre syndrome.

"Since Zika infection may affect millions of persons, there will be a surge of Guillain-Barre syndrome cases for health services to cope with, even though the risk is small," said researcher Dr. Hugh Willison. He's a professor of neurology at the University of Glasgow College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences in Scotland, according to Philly.

David Smith of Australia's Curtin University said it was difficult to know exactly how often Zika causes Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Smith co-authored an accompanying commentary in the Lancet.

He said in an email that because the Zika virus disappears from the body by the time patients develop neurological complications, there was only indirect evidence that Zika caused Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Zika is believed to be have eliminated from the bloodstream after a week or so.

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