Scientists in Brazil have uncovered a new brain disorder associated with Zika infections in adults: an autoimmune syndrome called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or ADEM, that attacks the brain and spinal cord.
Zika has already been linked with the autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome, which attacks peripheral nerves outside the brain and spinal cord, causing temporary paralysis that can in some cases require patients to rely on respirators for breathing.
The new discovery now shows Zika may provoke an immune attack on the central nervous system as well.
The findings add to the growing list of neurological damage associated with Zika.
According to the World Health Organization, there is a strong scientific consensus that, in addition to Guillain-Barre, Zika can cause the birth defect microcephaly, though conclusive proof may take months or years. Microcephaly is defined by unusually small heads that can result in developmental problems.
Brazil said it has confirmed more than 940 cases to be related to Zika infections in the mothers. Brazil is investigating nearly 4,300 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.
In addition to autoimmune disease, some researchers also have reported patients with Zika infections developing encephalitis and myelitis - nerve disorders typically caused by direct infections in nerve cells.