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Comment on Guillain-Barré syndrome and the Zika virus outbreak in Central and South America

The Zika virus outbreak in Central and South America has been linked to microcephaly in babies as well as Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease that brings about muscle weakness.  This is our statement on these reported links. 

Dr Peter Barlow, British Society for Immunology spokesperson and Reader in Immunology & Infection at Edinburgh Napier University, said:

“Guillain-Barré syndrome is a condition that can occur when the natural immune response generated by an infection, such as a virus, damages nerve cells.  It is generally quite rare but can cause paralysis and prolonged or permanent nerve damage.  The exact cause of why Guillain-Barré syndrome is associated with infection still remains to be identified.

“It has been suggested that there is a link between Zika virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome, in addition to the ongoing concerns relating to congenital microcephaly when Zika virus infection occurs in pregnancy. 

“While the link between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome has not yet been fully proven,  it is clear that the advice given by the WHO and CDC to prevent Zika infection should still be followed.  People living in, or travelling to, Zika affected areas should take careful measures to protect themselves against mosquito bites which could pass on the infection.  In the event that a firm link between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome is identified, this is the best and most appropriate way to prevent infection.”