TEGUCIGALPA Honduran authorities on Friday announced the death of a 22-year-old man from the neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome who was also suspected of having the Zika virus.
"We have notification of one death due to Guillain-Barre syndrome, very probably linked to the Zika illness," the deputy health minister of Honduras, Francis Contreras, told reporters.
If confirmed, it would be the first death related to Zika in the Central American country where 15,732 suspected cases have so far been reported, including 185 pregnant women.
The World Health Organization declared the Zika outbreak, which is suspected of causing thousands of babies to be born with abnormally small heads, or microcephaly, in Brazil, an international health emergency on Feb. 1.
Much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus actually causes microcephaly, which can result in developmental problems.
Brazil said it has confirmed 745 cases of microcephaly, and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the mothers. Brazil is investigating more than 4,900 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.
But the Zika outbreak has also been accompanied by an increase in Guillain-Barre, in which the body's immune system attacks part of the nervous system. Some 57 cases of Guillain-Barre have been reported in Honduras so far this year, compared with 112 for the whole of 2015, according to local authorities.
Usually occurring a few days after exposure to a virus, bacteria or parasite, Guillain-Barre causes gradual weakness in the legs, arms and upper body, and can result in total paralysis.
Zika is carried by mosquitoes, which transmit the virus to humans, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said on Feb. 23 it was also investigating possible cases of sexual transmission.
The outbreak has spread to many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean and the WHO estimates Zika could eventually affect as many as four million people in the region.
The WHO is investigating a "strongly suspected" relationship between Zika and microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small head size. There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus and some 80 percent of people infected show no symptoms.
(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia, editing by G Crosse)
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