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U.S. Researchers to Study Link between Zika Virus and Guillain-Barré

Update Date: Feb 10, 2016 09:31 AM EST

U.S. researchers are heading to Puerto Rico to study another disease that could be linked to the Zika virus, which has been spreading throughout the Americas.

The team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be analyzing the mosquito-borne virus in relation to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare condition that occurs when the immune system attacks parts of the nervous system. Guillain-Barré can cause weakness in the limbs and upper body. In some cases, it can lead to total paralysis.

"Right now we're focusing on Puerto Rico, where we've just started seeing cases of Zika as well as cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome," Dr. James Sejvar, a neuroepidemiologist at the CDC, told Reuters reported by FOX News. "In order to get ahead of the curve, we're going to try to rapidly establish active surveillance for Guillain-Barre in Puerto Rico in the hopes that we're catching the outbreak early."

Guillain-Barré has also been reported in some of the Zika-affected South American countries. In Colombia, the National Health Institute reported that there are nearly 100 cases of Guillain-Barré. Brazil, El Salvador, Suriname and Venezuela have also reported higher cases of Guillain-Barré.

Authorities in Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency on Feb. 5 after the total number of confirmed cases increased to 22. On Feb. 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a global health emergency after early research found strong evidence between the virus and a birth defect called microcephaly.

Due to the link between Zika and microcephly, which is characterized by an abnormally small head and an underdeveloped brain, the CDC has issued safe traveling guidelines for pregnant women and women looking to get pregnant. The agency has also issued safe sex guidelines after a case of the virus getting transmitted sexually surfaced in Texas.

The United Nations health agency reported that it expects the virus to spread everywhere in the Americas with the exception of Canada and Chile.

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