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WHO: Guillain-Barré Syndrome is on the Rise, no link to Zika

Update Date: Feb 13, 2016 10:48 AM EST

The World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting that cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome are on the rise in five Latam countries where there is a Zika virus outbreak.

"In the context of the Zika virus outbreak, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Suriname and Venezuela have reported an increase of GBS (Guillain-Barré Syndrome)," the United Nations health agency said in its weekly report about the virus. "The cause of the increase in GBS incidence observed in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and Suriname remains unknown, especially as dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus have all been circulating simultaneously in the Americas."

The WHO officials stated that researchers are studying the link between the virus and GBS. So far, there is no evidence that the virus causes the rare condition that can lead to paralysis.

The WHO reported that in Colombia and El Salvador, no cases of GBS have been linked to the Zika virus. In Venezuela, where there have been 252 reported cases of GBS, President Nicolas Maduro stated that officials confirmed Zika in three of the GBS cases. There was one fatality in those three cases.

The WHO added that in French Polynesia, the 42 cases of GBS that were confirmed from 2013 to 2014 tested positive for dengue and Zika, which are both transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Although there is no evidence that Zika can cause GBS, there is a strong link between Zika and birth defect, microcephaly. In Brazil, there have been more than 400 confirmed cases of microcephaly with Zika confirmed in about 40 of the cases.

"Prevention measures have become critical. There are concerns that the Zika virus may spread globally to environments where mosquitoes can live and breed," the WHO said.

Officials throughout the Americas have been conducting research to find a vaccine that could potentially enter clinical trials within 12 months. Studies to understand the virus better are also being carried out.

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