Neurological impact of Zika virus: Here's what we need to know

Neurological impact of Zika virus: Here's what we need to know

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Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that shares its genus with the dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses. The most common symptoms of Zika virus are muscle and joint pain, fever, ash, conjunctivitis and headache. Transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, Zika virus has become a pressing health concern in recent times. Besides the physical symptoms, the neurological impact of the virus is very concerning. 

In an interview with HT lifestyle, Dr. Vivek Barun, Consultant - Neurology and Epilepsy, Department of Neurology, Artemis Agrim Institute of Neuroscience, said, “While the Zika virus typically results in mild symptoms such as fever, rash, and joint pain, its neurological complications can be severe and lasting. These complications are especially concerning in specific populations, including pregnant women, infants, and individuals with preexisting neurological conditions.”

Microcephaly and Congenital Zika Syndrome

One of the most alarming neurological impacts of Zika is its association with microcephaly, a condition where infants are born with smaller-than-normal heads and underdeveloped brains. The virus crosses the placental barrier and infects fetal brain cells, disrupting their development. This results in Congenital Zika Syndrome - abnormalities including microcephaly, brain calcifications, and other neurological deficits.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome

In adults, Zika virus infection has been linked to Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rare yet serious condition where the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system. GBS can cause muscle weakness, paralysis, and in severe cases, respiratory failure. Even though the exact mechanism of the link between GBS and the Zika virus is still under exploration, it is believed that the immune response is triggered by the Zika virus.

Other neurological manifestations

Zika virus can also cause encephalitis, meningitis, and myelitis, though these are less common. Encephalitis and meningitis are all about inflammation of the brain and its surrounding membranes, respectively, leading to symptoms like severe headache, fever, confusion, and seizures. Myelitis, or inflammation of the spinal cord, can lead to paralysis and sensory deficits.

“The Zika virus poses significant neurological risks, especially for developing fetuses and individuals susceptible to autoimmune responses,” Dr. Vivek Barun added.

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