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Study Suggests Zika Virus Linked to Brain Disease

April 13, 2016

Researchers in Brazil believe there may be a connection between the Zika virus and a brain disease that has symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis. A report from Newsweek states that Zika could cause acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), an autoimmune condition that has some similarities to multiple sclerosis.

The study examined six patients in Brazil who tested positive for the Zika virus and began to experience neurological symptoms within two weeks of their Zika diagnosis. Two of those patients were diagnosed with ADEM, which causes severe inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, similar to MS.

The remaining patients in the study were diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), another autoimmune disease that targets the peripheral nerves. Existing research and case studies suggest the Zika virus is linked to GBS as well.

The patients later continued to experience central nervous system problems. Most had some issues with mobility, while one experienced problems with vision and one had some memory and cognitive issues.

"This doesn't mean that all people infected with Zika will experience these brain problems,” Dr. Maria Lucia Brito Ferreira, the lead researcher of the study, said in a statement. “Of those who have nervous system problems, most do not have brain symptoms," said Ferreira. "However, our study may shed light on possible lingering effects the virus may be associated with in the brain."