PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A neurologic condition called Guillian Barre Syndrome has been noted in higher numbers where there has been Zika virus, seven times the number of expected cases in some parts of Brazil.
“Usually it occurs about two to four weeks after you get a cold or a flu-like illness,” says Allegheny General Hospital neurologist Dr. George Small.
The body attacks its own nerves, leading to weakness and tingling. This tends to spread from the ends of both legs and arms, up to the trunk.
“About 20 percent of cases, it takes a long time to get back to walking again because it causes weakness,” says Dr. Small, “About 20 percent of patients are not able to breathe on their own, and require a machine to help them breathe.”
You also lose reflexes, the kind that happen when the doctor taps on your knee or ankle.
A doctor will have a pretty good idea that you have Guillain Barre Syndrome after examining you. But a diagnostic test is a spinal tap. The lab will find a high protein in the spinal fluid out of proportion to any inflammation there.
In addition to this supportive lab test, a nerve and muscle test will have certain abnormalities pointing to Guillain Barre.
While no definite cause and effect has been established between Zika and this nerve problem, doctors are being alert.
“We might be depending on who’s disembarking from ships and planes,” says Dr. Small. “I’d say we see five or six a year. We’re going to be on the lookout for more cases of Guillain Barre Syndrome in the Pittsburgh area.”
For the vast majority of people with Guillain Barre syndrome, the symptoms eventually all go away. But some reports from Brazil describe otherwise healthy young people struck by this still having trouble six months later.