February 4, 2016 11:11 am
Updated: February 4, 2016 4:45 pm

Zika virus: New concerns about paralyzing disorder

Zika virus

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As the outbreak of Zika virus continues to spread, health officials are investigating a possible link between a rare disorder and the mosquito-borne virus.

Doctors in some Zika virus-infected countries report seeing an increase in cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a rare and potentially life threatening attack on the nervous system which can cause paralysis. GBS often occurs after a viral infection.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) reports there was a spike in GBS cases in El Salvador in December: 46 cases in one month. That’s considered three times higher than the average number of cases.

All this was happening while the number of Zika virus infections were also rising.

It has not been proven there is a link between Zika virus and GBS, but some physicians believe there is.

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In Brazil, neurologist Dr. Lucia Brito said the number of GBS cases is four times higher than normal at the hospital where she works, and she is convinced it’s connected to Zika virus.

“Absolutely,” Dr. Brito told NBC News.

The first study suggesting a link between Zika and GBS reviewed an occurrence in 2013 in French Polynesia.

Canadians and Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) and Zika virus

Back in Canada, health officials here believe that doctors should be aware of the potential link.

“Yes, we should be looking for it,” Dr. Andrew Simor told Global News.

Simor, an infectious disease specialist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, said if a patient comes back ill from a Zika-infected country they need to tell their physician, so they can also be monitored for GBS.

“If they have Zika virus then we should be alert to the possibility of a complication like this occurring.”

For now there are more questions than answers about Zika virus and GBS.

“It certainly is biologically plausible, because in fact Guillain-Barre Syndrome often follows any viral infection,” Simor said.

“So for it to also follow this viral infection wouldn’t be surprising. Question is: what is the increased risk? “

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Gregory Taylor told Global News more research into the possible connection is needed.

“There’s association in a few countries with Zika virus and Guillain-Barre. We don’t know if it’s an association or if it’s causal so that is unproven, so we need a lot more research to try and see if there is a causal association.”

WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Gregory Taylor,  Canada’s Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer speaks to Global News about the possible link between Guillain-Barre syndrome and Zika virus.

The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) has teams on the ground in Brazil investigating the possible link between GBS and the Zika virus, the “CDC is working to determine if Zika and GBS are related,” the agency reports.

Canada’s Health Minister Jane Philpott, a physician, also reiterated the connection needs to be monitored.

“There has been some association potentially of the Zika virus but that is not one hundred per cent confirmed yet, so we will continue to follow that as well,” said Philpott.

WATCH ABOVE: Health Minister Jane Philipott discusses possible Zika link to Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)

Earlier this week the WHO declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency. As many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year, according to the WHO.

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