(CN) - Researchers on Monday said they've found a connection between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder that can lead to temporary paralysis and sometimes death.
Guillain-Barre syndrome causes the immune system to attack the nervous system and generally occurs a few days after exposure to a parasite, virus or bacteria.
Although health officials have presumed a connection between Guillain-Barre and Zika, a study published in The Lancet on Monday presents the first evidence of a link.
Zika is transmitted primarily through mosquito bites, although transmission via sexual contact and between mother and fetus has been reported. The virus is rapidly spreading throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
Researchers reviewed cases of Zika infections in French Polynesia between 2013 and 2014. Outbreaks of the virus also occurred in Africa and parts of Asia before being reported in Brazil around mid 2015.
The team analyzed 42 patients who had developed Guillain-Barre and found that each of them had contracted Zika at some point, including 39 cases - or 93 percent of patients - of recent Zika infections.
Meanwhile, researchers calculated the overall likelihood of developing Guillian-Barre after a Zika infection at roughly 2.4 cases for every 10,000 people infected with the virus.
"The regions which are affected by the Zika virus epidemic are likely to see a significant increase in the number of patients with serious neurological complications, and when possible, should increase the capacity of health-care facilities to receive patients needing intensive care," study leader Arnaud Fontanet, of France's Institut Pasteur, told Reuters.
The World Health Organization declared an international health emergency Feb. 1 in response to the spread of the virus.
International worry has increased as Zika continues to spread, including to nations in North America and Europe, due to travelers returning from places with active transmissions.
In addition to Guillain-Barre, Zika has also been associated with microcephaly and hydranencephaly. Microcephaly leads to reduced head size and brain damage for infants, and often death.
Hydranencephaly is characterized by either significant or complete absence of brain tissue, as well as abnormal pools of fluid in the cranial cavity. The disorder was analyzed by a research group stationed in Brazil, which studied a fetus from a stillbirth in January.
Experts feel that further research is still needed, though existing evidence of a connection between Zika and the three disorders continues to mount.
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