Studies say COVID-19 may trigger Guillain-Barre syndrome

Tessy Igomu

COVID-19 patients may be susceptible to a rare nerve disorder known as Guillain-Barré syndrome, studies have revealed.

Recent reports have linked the debilitating medical condition to several cases of COVID-19 infection.

This link was further strengthened recently after a TikTok user @jamesjflowers, whose real name is James Flowers confirmed having the condition.

Flowers was reacting to another user @ramdanielle, who asked followers to share their long-term symptoms after contracting COVID-19.

Flowers revealed that after being hospitalised with COVID-19, he was diagnosed with the medical condition, which left him incapacitated.

“It left me disabled. I could not walk. I still have trouble walking to this day,” he said.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare neurological disorder that is considered an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord, 

NINDS explained that in the most common form of GBS, the immune system may mistakenly overreact and damage the myelin sheath, or the protective coating of peripheral nerves.

It noted that it can lead to paralysis and that the symptoms include tingling in feet or hands, pain, weakness, vision problems, abnormal heartbeat and digestive issues.

“While there is no cure for GBS, 70 per cent of patients fully recover, though symptoms like weakness and crushing fatigue can linger,” NINDS noted.

Mayo Clinic stated that in its most severe form, Guillain-Barre syndrome is a medical emergency. 

The online medical portal noted that the exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is unknown, but that two-thirds of patients report symptoms of respiratory, gastrointestinal or Zika virus infection in the six weeks preceding.

“There’s no known cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome, but several treatments can ease symptoms and reduce the duration of the illness.

“Although most people recover from Guillain-Barre syndrome, the mortality rate is four per cent to seven per cent.

“Between 60-80 per cent of people can walk at six months. Patients may experience lingering effects from it, such as weakness, numbness or fatigue,” it stated.

Flowers, while recounting his ordeal in TikTok, said he still suffers horrible headaches and double vision and is unable to drive or exercise.

“Essentially my long-term effect from COVID-19 is that it ruined my life,” he added.

According to News Medical Life Sciences, recent research has shown that COVID-19 has been tied to a wide range of immune neuropathies, including Guillain–Barré Syndrome.

It noted that a team of researchers at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Rutgers University, USA, had investigated a case where a man experienced recurrent episodes of GBS after being infected with COVID-19.

The study was published in the latest issue of the journal Pathogens, in November 2020.

According to The Conversation, a medical journal for researchers, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications like Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

It noted that studies showed an increase in GBS cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, thus, suggesting a possible connection.

“The presumed cause for this link is that the body’s immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an “autoimmune” condition.

“When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem.

“That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and maybe incomplete,” the journal stated.

The Conversation noted that first reports of GBS in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

“Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to GBS, many important questions remain, like; what are the chances that someone can get GBS during or following a COVID-19 infection?

“Does GBS happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?”

Continuing, the journal noted, “The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients.

“There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

“While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19.

“Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with GBS so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

“Also, just because GBS occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19 does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.”

In an interview with Health, Dr. Martin J. Blaser, director, Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, Rutgers University, said respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infections often trigger GBS, adding, “We know a number of cases occur after the flu.”

Forty per cent of GBS cases, he noted, follows a Campylobacter infection (a bacterial infection that causes diarrhoea).

Blaser also pointed out that Zika and Epstein Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis (an infectious illness contracted through kissing and sharing drinks or silverware), is another culprit.

He disclosed that annually, one to two cases of GBS per 100,000 people are reported in the US, but that this year, more cases are being reported after infection with COVID-19.

Also, the New England Journal of Medicine had earlier in the year, published case reports of five patients in northern Italy hospitals that had GBS after contracting COVID-19.

They were reported to have first experienced symptoms like lower-limb weakness, prickling, burning sensations and facial paralysis.

The symptoms were said to be swift and appearing five to 10 days after their first signs of COVID-19.

Countering the COVID-19 link to GBS, a recent study carried out by a group of epidemiologists, which analysed the rate of GBS treated in UK hospitals from 2016 to 2019, and compared them to the rate recorded in 2020, stated that there have actually been fewer cases diagnosed.

The research, published in the journal, Brain, could not conclude that COVID-19 causes GBS.

The authors admitted that GBS cases could be lower due to lockdowns that kept bacterial and other respiratory illnesses at bay.

Reacting to the study, Blaser said he also suspects the fewer cases recorded was due to less flu than expected because of social distancing.

He, however, said, “I have no reason to disagree that they’re finding fewer cases, but the question is, why?

“Is it because COVID-19 doesn’t cause it or are there other causes of GBS that are dropping off?

“I don’t disagree with the data, but I do disagree with their conclusion.

“Cases of GBS are occurring in patients who have COVID,” Blaser insisted.

The expert said ultimately, more research is needed, adding, “If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, certainly monitor and talk to your doctor about the range of symptoms you’re experiencing.

“Report anything new (especially neurological symptoms that appear days or weeks after the initial infection).

“And if you have a history of GBS, your doctor should be monitoring you for neurological problems.”

The post Studies say COVID-19 may trigger Guillain-Barre syndrome appeared first on Healthwise.

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