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A new study of 42 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome in French Polynesia offers the strongest evidence to date that the Zika virus can trigger temporary paralysis, researchers reported. But experts cautioned that more evidence from other locations was needed to be conclusive.
Since last year, doctors have noticed an unusual increase in Guillain-Barré cases in several countries with Zika outbreaks, including Brazil, El Salvador and Venezuela. But as the World Health Organization reported, a large number of those patients have not yet been confirmed through laboratory testing to have Zika.
Guillain-Barré leaves patients unable to move, in extreme cases forcing them to depend on life support. While most patients eventually regain full movement, the condition can be fatal. In the patients studied in French Polynesia, none died, but 38 percent went to an intensive care unit and 29 percent needed help breathing.
Researchers used a gold-standard test to look for Zika antibodies in the patients. It entailed adding serum from each patient to live Zika virus in a culture, and then seeing whether the patient had antibodies to destroy the virus.
All 42 patients had antibodies that killed the Zika virus. By contrast, only half of a control group of 98 people — matched for age, sex, and residence — had the antibodies.
The scientists also looked for another type of antibody, called IgM, to see if patients had recently been infected with Zika. Thirty one patients, nearly 74 percent, had IgM antibodies against Zika.
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