As of the 9th of December, the hospital of Taaone in Tahiti has reported 5 deaths due to Chikungunya. 4 of these cases have have presented with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, the severe inflammatory neurological disorder that often attacks the peripheral nervous system and can lead to permanent paralysis.
According to the report from ProMed, GBS is not normally associated with the Chikungunya virus infection. All throughout the Americas, there has been very little correlation between Chikungunya infection and GBS. Interestingly, ProMed stated that in the same region there have been over 40 cases of GBS from Zika Virus infection in 2014 alone. Although these patients were not infected with Zika Virus, the increased case number of GBS in the region and after infection with both of these ARBO viruses is worth noting for practitioners who positively diagnose these Flavi and Toga viruses in patients.
ProMed does not postulate a reason as to why there is an increased case number of viral infection followed by GBS in the region, but I can think up a number of hypotheses as to why there might be. First off, if the patients are all native pacific islanders, there may be a genetic predisposition to GBS in that population. Another possibility is that there is something distinctly different about the virus in the area. Both of these hypotheses could be tested by looking at the people who have been affected by GBS, and sequencing the genomes of the virus that caused the infection in the first place. This information would be great to have on hand as Chikungunya starts spreading its way across the entire globe.
- Marcus Munoz