Stronger link between Zika and microcephaly

POSTED: 04/4/16 2:36 PM

HILVERSUM – The World Health Organization says that there is strong scientific consensus about a link between the Zika-virus and disorders of the central nervous system. Never before did the organization state this so strongly, Pieter Hofmann reports on Caribisch Netwerk.

Byron Martina, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical center in Rotterdam, explains what the WHO means exactly. “During the past couple of months research has been done. If the Zika-virus were responsible for microcephaly you would expect certain things; for instance that the virus infects certain cells. And because this has been observed, the connection becomes scientifically strong.”

Experimental studies on cells outside of the body and studies on animals have found these connections. This enlarges the probability of a connection.

However, the evidence is not rock solid without long term research. Why does the WHO then still increase the level of probability? Martina: “It has to meet scientific conditions. Currently, microcephaly has only been established in Brazil. In other countries this occurred just once. You have to consider the moment the epidemic began. So it could be that six to nine months from now you will see cases of microcephaly outside of Brazil as well.”

The consequences for the Leeward Islands are hard to predict at this moment. Martina: “I do not know from the top of my head when exactly the virus appeared there. If you assume January, you should see cases around September or October. Again: this depends on whether the connection is there. Right now it means that two things occur at the same time. But with Zika we are unable to say: A causes B.”

The best known disorders that are associated with the Zika-Virus are microcephaly and the Guillain-Barré syndrome, but these are not the only ones. Martina: “You could summarize it as disorders that affect the central nervous system. You see with all viruses that have an affinity with neurons that it is not limited to one syndrome. Over time for instance, meningitis or myelitis (an infection of the spinal cord) will occur among zika-patients. But the number of cases is so small that we cannot be certain.”

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