Zika 'link' to paralysing myelitis: researchers

Flyers and posters of a "Stop Zika" campaign are seen in Petit-Bourg, Guadeloupe, on March 4, 2016.
Flyers and posters of a "Stop Zika" campaign are seen in Petit-Bourg, Guadeloupe, on March 4, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - The Zika virus, suspected of causing brain damage in babies and a neurological ailment in adults, has now also been linked to the paralysing disorder myelitis, French researchers said Tuesday (March 8).

A 15-year-old girl diagnosed with acute myelitis in January had high levels of Zika in her cerebrospinal fluid, blood and urine, said Annie Lannuzel of the University Hospital Center Pointe-a-Pitre in Guadeloupe.

"This is the first published case to offer proof of a link" between myelitis and the virus sweeping Latin America and the Caribbean, she told AFP.

The case had been described in a report published in The Lancet medical journal.

"The presence of Zika virus in the cerebrospinal fluid of our patient with acute myelitis suggests that this virus might be neurotropic" - something that attacks the nervous system, Lannuzel and a team wrote in the case report.

Zika usually causes mild symptoms in adults, with a low fever, headaches and joint pain, but the virus' quick spread has raised alarm due to an observed association with more serious health conditions.

Last week, scientists said they had found the first evidence of a biological link between Zika and microcephaly, a severe deformation of the brains of unborn babies.

Laboratory tests found that Zika targeted key cells involved in brain development and then destroyed or disabled them, they said.

Also last week, researchers taking part in a different study offered evidence that Zika can cause Guillain-Barre, a rare condition in which the body's immune system attacks a part of the nervous system that controls muscle strength.

Myelitis is an inflammation of the spinal cord which can affect limb movement and cause paralysis.

In the reported case, a teenaged girl was admitted to the Pointe-a-Pitre hospital with partial paralysis, limb weakness, and intense pain.

Nine days after the symptoms began, doctors found high levels of Zika virus in her blood, spinal fluid and urine, said a statement from France's Inserm medical research institute.

Other potential causes of myelitis were ruled out, including shingles, chicken pox and herpes virus.

The girl's condition has since improved and she is now out of danger, said the statement.

"My message is that Zika does not only affect pregnant women, and is not necessarily benign," said Lannuzel.