Scientists in Brazil have found evidence of a second brain disorder linked to the Zika virus – one with symptoms so similar to multiple sclerosis that some medical personnel initially have difficulty telling them apart.
The new disorder, called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or ADEM, is identified in an abstract authored by Brazilian scientist Maria Lucia Brito Ferreira. She is set to present her findings at an international meeting of neurological scientists meeting April 15-21 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
ADEM is described as a short-term, intense immune attack on the central nervous system, targeting the brain and spinal cords in patients who have recovered from a range of viral or bacterial infections.
Brazilian news site G1 reported that Ferreira, a neurologist at Restoration Hospital in Recife, Brazil, based her findings on the study of 151 patients who visited the hospital between December 2014 and June 2015.
Ferreira observed the patients who had been infected with arboviruses, which include Zika, dengue and chikungunya. Out of these patients, six were diagnosed with Zika. Five patients reported motor dysfunction, vision problems, and one had cognitive decline.
Zika has already been linked with the autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barre that causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord that damages the myelin, a white protective coating that surrounds never fibers resulting in loss of balance and vision, numbness, and weakness.
“Encephalomyelitis, is a serious condition, regardless of etiology. It is more serious than the Guillain-Barré,” Ferreira told G1.
Zika is also linked to microcephaly, which causes a spectrum of birth defects, miscarriages and deaths in infants, as well as paralysis in adults. In January, the World Health Organization called the virus an international public health emergency because of its link to microcephaly.
Brazilian officials confirmed more than 940 Zika cases in mothers. The country is investigating another 4,300 suspected cases of microcephaly.
President Barack Obama asked Congress in early February for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus.
Reuters reported that at least 13 countries have reported cases of Guillain-Barré linked with outbreaks of Zika. WHO believes Zika is likely the cause.
Scientists have known about Zika since it was discovered in Uganda in 1947.