Zika Virus Potentially Linked with Acute Sensory Polyneuropathy

Add sensory polyneuropathy to the list of potential complications associated with Zika virus, the mosquito-borne infection currently plaguing regions of South America and the Caribbean as well as, in recent weeks, the state of Florida.

Add sensory polyneuropathy to the list of potential complications associated with Zika virus, the mosquito-borne infection currently plaguing regions of South America and the Caribbean as well as, in recent weeks, the state of Florida.

In a study published in the October 2016 issue of the Journal of the Neurological Sciences (JNS), researchers from Honduras, Venezuela, and the United States describe the first case of peripheral nerve damage related to Zika. To date, of course, the virus has been linked with damage to adult neural stem cells, Guillain-Barré syndrome, as well as microcephaly in babies born to infected mothers.

The JNS paper presents the case of a 62-year-old Honduran male patient who traveled to Venezuela and developed acute sensory polyneuropathy during the active phase of infection with Zika virus. The nerve-related symptoms have largely remitted, but improvement took several months.

The case report is part of a collaborative effort involving the World Federation of Neurology Work Group on Zika, a recently established forum convened to contribute expertise to the coordinated global response to the ongoing Zika outbreaks worldwide.

The authors of the case report did not respond to requests for comment from Contagion. However, in a press release issued at the time of its publication, study co-author Marco T. Medina, Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras, said, “Clinicians should be aware that Zika virus infection can also cause an acute infectious sensory polyneuropathy. Our patient is the first confirmed Zika infection case report associated with an acute sensory polyneuropathy which began during the acute infectious phase. This suggests a probable direct viral inflammatory process affecting sensory nerves, but an autoimmune etiology cannot be definitely excluded."

Of course, as this only the first case report linking the virus with this neurological complication, further study is needed before the association can be confirmed.

Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.