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Following the Zika-induced outbreak of microcephaly cases in Brazil, a new study has found that the virus could be responsible for a serious autoimmune brain disorder as well.

The Zika virus, believed to be behind the epidemic rates of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil, has now been linked to a brain disorder in adults as well. Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or ADEM, is a serious autoimmune syndrome characterized by widespread and severe inflammation. ADEM is known to present following bacterial and viral infections in some cases. It can now be added to the already growing list of possible consequences of the Zika virus, which has been associated with  Guillain-Barre syndrome too. 

Zika: 'Different Effects'

Brazilian neurologist Dr Maria Lucia Brito led the study, which involved 151 patients who visited her hospital, Restoration Hospital in Recife, between December 2014 and June 2015. All these patients had arbovirus infections. This group of viruses includes dengue and chikungunya as well as Zika and others. 

Six of the patients had autoimmune symptoms. Four tested positive for Guillain-Barre, while two were found to have ADEM, a must more severe condition. Both patients were found, through brain-imaging scans, to have suffered white-matter damage. Of the six patients with autoimmune symptoms, five suffered motor dysfunction. One had vision problems, and another was discovered to be dealing with cognitive decline. All six developed these problems after being infected with the Zika virus. 

Though 13 countries had already reported cases of Guillain-Barre following Zika infections and the World Health Organization agrees that Zika is the most probable cause, the possibility that Zika can also cause ADEM was newly made by Dt Brito and her team. 

She said: "Though our study is small, it may provide evidence that in this case, the virus has different effects on the brain than those identified in current studies."

More Serious Than Previously Thought

The Zika virus has still not been proven beyond a doubt to have caused the epidemic of babies born with microcephaly — extremely small heads — in Brazil, but the country has found that a link exists in at least 940 cases. An additional 4,300 microcephaly cases are still under investigation. 

Before these widespread microcephaly cases terrified the world, the Zika virus was believed to be fairly benign. Only one in five people develop symptoms, usually fever, joint pain, muscle pain, headache, a skin rash, and conjuctivitis, and those generally improve within a week.

After Brazil's microcephaly outbreak put Zika on the global health-concern map, one case of sexually-transmitted Zika was found to have occurred in the US, and now the virus is being linked with serious autoimmune conditions as well! The good news is that doctors can be on the look-out for ADEM symptoms as a result of the Brazilian study. Further research is, however, needed to figure out exactly why Zika has the potential to induce autoimmune syndromes. 

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