The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that it has been able to confirm that the Zika virus causes microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
“Based on a growing body of preliminary research, there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome,” they wrote in their weekly situation report.
- Microcephaly and other fetal malformations potentially associated with Zika virus infection or suggestive of congenital infection have been reported in Brazil (1046 cases), Cabo Verde (two cases), Colombia (seven cases), French Polynesia (eight cases), Martinique (three cases) and Panama (one case). Two additional cases, each linked to a stay in Brazil, were detected in the United States of America and Slovenia.
- In the context of Zika virus circulation, 13 countries or territories worldwide have reported an increased incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and/or laboratory confirmation of a Zika virus infection among GBS cases.
Microcephaly occurs if the brain does not form properly in pregnancy or stops growing after birth. Children can suffer from seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disability, and feeding problems. Brazilian officials believe Zika caused “most” of the 5,000 cases of microcephaly since the outbreak started.
In February, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said that doctors confirmed the presence of Zika virus in the tissue of infants who died from microcephaly.
Guillain-Barré causes paralysis in those diagnosed with it. A survivor based in New York City told CBS News his joints “felt like lead weights.” The “prize-winning Brazilian-American well known in the performing arts” did not want CBS to identify him.
The man known as João and twelve colleagues contracted Zika last spring while in Brazil. He developed Guillain-Barré syndrome shortly after he recovered from Zika.
“I was on my way to the airport to leave and had to turn back,” he claimed.
He decided to seek treatment at a private hospital, since the public hospitals had too many patients. João then spent two more weeks in bed at home.
“Everyone knows the Zika symptoms, because so many people get it. With Guillain-Barré, I was paralyzed, I could not walk. All of my joints felt like lead weights,” he said.
WHO declared the Zika virus a public health emergency on February 1 due to the thousands of cases of the virus linked to birth defects in newborn children.
“I am now declaring that the recent cluster of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities reported in Latin America following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014 constitutes a public health emergency of international concern,” announced WHO director general Margaret Chan.
She added: “This is an extraordinary event. It poses a public health threat to other parts of the world and a coordinated international response is needed.”