The Zika virus’s health effects generally are described as mild – flu-like symptoms for those that show symptoms at all – or not yet certain, with references to Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which causes paralysis, or microcephaly, an often devastating birth defect.
But the linkage to Guillain-Barré, an autoimmune disorder first brought to the American public’s attention three decades ago as a reaction to swine flu vaccine, isn’t new to the current outbreak. Researchers raised the likelihood of a Zika-Guillain-Barré connection two years ago after an outbreak of the virus in French Polynesia, the first time the disease had spread to a population that could be tracked and treated.
According to an article in the October 2014 edition of the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection, the first case of Guillain-Barré was detected just one month after the first Zika cases were reported in French Polynesia in October 2013. The Guillain-Barré sufferer – the syndrome typically causes paralysis that can be so severe as to affect the ability to open one’s eyes and even to breathe – had had a confirmed case of Zika a week earlier.
Over the course of the French Polynesia Zika outbreak, the incidence of Guillain-Barré increased 20-fold, the researchers noted. They called the “temporal and spatial association” between Zika and Guillain-Barré “very suspicious,” though they said they couldn’t prove a causal link.