French doctors say they’ve found yet another unexpected complication to blame on the Zika virus: meningitis and encephalitis.
An 81-year-old man who became ill on a cruise in the South Pacific, where Zika is circulating, was infected with the virus, the doctors said.
He developed meningoencephalitis, which is an inflammation of both the brain — encephalitis — and the brain covering – meningitis.
"An 81-year-old man was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) 10 days after he had been on a 4-week cruise in the area of New Caledonia, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and New Zealand; he was reported to have been in perfect health during that time," the team, led by Dr. Guillaume Carteaux of the Hopitaux de Paris, wrote in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.
He became so ill he had to be put on a ventilator to help him breathe and he developed a fever and rash — symptoms of several viruses, including Zika.
"Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain was suggestive of meningoencephalitis," the team wrote.
Tests ruled out several infections but he eventually tested positive for Zika infection of his spinal fluid.
The patient didn’t fully recover for more than a month. "Clinicians should be aware that Zika virus may be associated with meningoencephalitis," the team cautioned.
Many viruses can cause meningitis, encephalitis and meningoencephalitis, including West Nile virus, which is related to Zika and which is also transmitted by mosquitoes.
The World Health Organization has been steadily raising alarms about Zika, which experts say almost certainly is causing a range of serious birth defects mostly affecting the brain, as well as a paralyzing nerve disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome.
WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both warn pregnant women to stay away form Zika affected areas if they can and say anyone traveling to areas where Zika is circulating should protect themselves from mosquito bites with insect repellent, protective clothing and by staying indoors.
CDC just added several South Pacific island nations to its list of Zika zones. Countries on the list include American Samoa and Samoa, the Marshall Islands, New Caledonia and Tonga.
Zika’s also spreading fast across Latin America and the Caribbean.