The Zika virus, spread by mosquitoes, may be linked to a second neurological disorder.
The buzz around Zika keeps getting scarier.
The mosquito-borne virus has been linked to a second autoimmune disorder that is similar to multiple sclerosis, according to a small study released on Tuesday.
Scientists at the American Academy of Neurology in Vancouver have now linked Zika to acute disseminated encephalomyeltis, or ADEM, which is a swelling of the brain and spinal cord that affects the coating around nerve fibers.
But unlike multiple sclerosis, which is a chronic neurological disorder that can result in blindness and paralysis, ADEM usually consists of a single attack. Most people recover within six months, although in some cases, the disease returns.
Doctors were already concerned about Zika’s association with Guillain-Barre syndrome, where the immune system attacks the nervous system and causes paralysis.
The latest study followed 151 patients hospitalized in Recife, Brazil between December 2014 and December 2015 for symptoms associated with Zika, dengue or chikungunya — which are all spread by the same Aedes aegypti species of mosquito.
The virus carried by aedes aegypti mosquitoes has been linked to acute disseminated encephalomyeltis, or ADEM, which is similar to multiple sclerosis.
All of the people studied suffered a fever followed by a rash, and some also had red eyes, severe itching, as well as muscle and joint pain. Four of them developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, and two developed ADEM.
“This doesn’t mean that all people infected with Zika will experience these brain problems. Of those who have nervous system problems, most do not have brain symptoms,” said study author Dr. Maria Lucia Brito Ferreira in a statement. “However, our study may shed light on possible lingering effects the virus may be associated with in the brain.”
This news comes the day after federal health officials called for more money for mosquito control and the development of vaccines and treatments to fight Zika.
“Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought,” Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at a White House briefing on Monday.
Doctors have been mostly worried about Zika’s effects on the brains of developing fetuses, as Brazil’s epidemic has correlated with a surge of babies born with microceophaly, or abnormally small heads.
Zika has also been linked to meningoencephalitis, a dangerous inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain, and myelitis, a sudden paralysis caused by inflammation of the spinal cord.