Zika increases risk of auto-immune disease

As surveillance of potential Zika cases is escalating in parts of Texas, an interesting new study reveals the risk of the mosquito-borne illness: an increased risk of the otherwise rare auto-immune disease:

The strongest evidence yet that infection with the Zika virus can lead to the later development of Guillain-Barré syndrome has come from a new study.

Investigators conducted virologic polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing in 42 Colombian patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome and found a positive result for Zika infection in 40%.

“This is very strong documentation of viral infection triggering Guillain-Barré syndrome,” senior author, Carlos A. Pardo, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, commented to Medscape Medical News.

The bad news: Guillain-Barré is an otherwise rare, but deeply unpleasant and potentially very serious assault of the body’s own immune system on the patient (and here’s an inspiring video of over-coming the paralyzing impacts of the syndrome if you’d like a flavor of the illness’s power to lay the victim low).

The good news: Zika cases in the United States outside of south Florida appears to be limited to travel-based incidents rather than local transmission. That’s better than many public health experts feared. As the seasonal likelihood of local Zika transmission dissipates this fall, local officials can start spending time thinking about how to handle the risk of next year’s seasonal peak. This map from the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research shows localities that are at higher risk of impact during peak periods of potential transmission (aka, summer).

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Next year is an important topic as funding for a vaccine comes online now:

The leading Zika vaccine candidate should be ready for field testing should new outbreaks occur next year, U.S. health officials announced[.]

[R]esearchers finished recruitment of the 80 volunteers needed for phase 1 trials of a DNA vaccine to protect against Zika, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). In a Phase 1 trial, a drug or vaccine is tested in a small group, largely for safety.

“This trial is right on target — in fact, a bit ahead of time,” Fauci said. “It is projected we will have enough information to determine safety and whether it induces the kind of response we predict would be protective.”

The DNA vaccine is on track for phase 2 field testing by January, if it proves safe and Zika outbreaks begin with the start of summer in South America, Fauci said. Phase 2 trials test the effectiveness of a drug or vaccine in larger numbers of people.

It’s serious issue that requires prevention, as this Newsweek dive into the issue discusses:

Should the virus become more widespread in the U.S., it could easily outrun the efforts to control and understand it. Investigating over 100 cases of a virus that remains asymptomatic in four out of five people is challenging enough. But, in future mosquito seasons, that number could rise. That would require an even larger infrastructure for surveillance, and more money for a program that is already seriously underfunded.

“We might like to think that we’re no longer vulnerable to mosquitoes and other infectious disease-carrying vectors, but we are. We need to keep our guard up, and for that we need funding,” says CDC Director Thomas Frieden. “The decisions and actions we take now are going to have implications decades to come for the children who are born affected by Zika.”

And don’t miss the story intro talking about unmarked vans with tinted windows. Seriously. It’s an informative piece.

Consider those government-led preparations and prevention. Now combine the serious concern not only about Zika’s impact on pregnant mothers and their children with the knowledge that Zika appears to also seriously increase the odds of a significant auto-immune disease and the stakes are high. Even if as Newsweek quotes, we as a society may have come to disregard the seriousness of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and other pests.