Scientists have confirmed that the Zika virus – generally spread by mosquitoes — could be far more dangerous than we thought.
In recent days medical experts have learned that the virus not only can cause paralysis in adults but it also can spread through sexual contact and blood transfusions.
Zika can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome or GBS, a rare disorder that can cause complete paralysis, for which there is no known treatment in adults and children. Health officials in El Salvador, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela have seen increasing levels of GBS in areas where Zika is spreading, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported.
How Zika Can Cause Paralysis
“In the past week we have seen a substantial increase in the number of people reported with Guillain-Barré ,” Colombia’s health minister, Alejandro Gaviria, told the press. In fact, Gaviria believes hundreds of people in his country have developed the condition because of Zika , The Guardian reported.
Prior to Zika, a typical neurologist in Cartagena, Colombia – a city of 845,801 people – saw three patients with GBS a year, Gaviria said. The same doctor is now seeing three GBS patients per day.
Gaviria blames Zika , which is spread by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito. That type of mosquito also is found in parts of the US.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a mysterious and frightening ailment in which the immune system attacks the nervous system.
The possible GBS connection raises the stakes in the Zika epidemic, because until now the virus was only thought to be a threat to pregnant women and their unborn babies.
First Case in the United States
Mosquitos are not the only way Zika can spread. Authorities in Dallas County, Texas, confirmed that a person had caught Zika by having sex with somebody who recently traveled to Venezuela.
“There have been isolated cases of spread through blood transfusion or sexual contact and that’s not very surprising,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “The virus is in the blood for about a week. How long it would remain in the semen is something that needs to be studied and we’re working on that now.”
Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) is barring people who have traveled to areas where the Zika virus has been detected from donating blood, The Guardian reported.
“The safety of the blood supply is paramount and it is important we implement any precautionary blood safety measures agreed here as a result of an increasing prevalence of infectious diseases found around the globe,” an NHS spokeswoman said.
Zika in 20 Countries in the Western Hemisphere
Zika is such a serious threat that WHO has declared it a Global Health Emergency, The New York Times reported . The international agency said the virus  has been detected in 20 countries in the Western Hemisphere, including the United States.
The current outbreak began in Brazil, where it is suspected to be the cause an epidemic of a rare condition called microcephaly, which can cause babies to be born with small heads and severe brain damage.
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