The Benue Commissioner for Health and Human Services, Joseph Ngbea, says his team has identified Guillain-Barré syndrome as possibly responsible for the conditions of nine pupils of Vaatia College who had developed wobbly limbs.
Experts say Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves.
“Weakness and tingling in the body’s extremities are usually the first symptoms, and the sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralysing the entire body,” Mayo Clinic says.
The health portal adds that most people with the condition must be hospitalised to receive treatment.
“The exact cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome is unknown. But two-thirds of patients report symptoms of an infection in the six weeks preceding. These include respiratory or a gastrointestinal infection or Zika virus,” the portal stated.
The World Health Organisations states that, in Guillain-Barré syndrome, the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.
“The syndrome can affect the nerves that control muscle movement as well as those that transmit pain, temperature and touch sensations. This can result in muscle weakness and loss of sensation in the legs and/or arms.
“It is a rare condition, and while it is more common in adults and in males, people of all ages can be affected,” WHO warns.
Consequently, the Benue State Government says it has shut down the affected secondary school, Vaatia College, in Makurdi the state capital.
According to Channels TV, which reported the news, at least nine pupils have been reported paralysed following the outbreak, and some have been hospitalised at Madonna Hospital, a private clinic in the state.
Health commissioner Ngbea told the medium that some of the pupils have been discharged, while a handful of others are still hospitalised.
“The report of the unknown disease got to me through my Director of Public Health and we went to the Teaching Hospital where three of the pupils were on admission and what we saw there was not paralysis. What we saw was paresis – weakness of the limbs.”
Experts say a person with paresis can still move the affected muscle or muscles. However, these movements are weaker than normal.
Paresis is different from paralysis, because an individual who has paralysis isn’t able to move a specific muscle or muscle group at all.
Continuing, commissioner Ngbea said, “Many of them were walking with a wobbling gait. We looked at the possible causes because this country is almost certified free of poliomyelitis.
“So, when we got there, it was confirmed that it was not poliomyelitis. What we are looking at is Guillain-Barré syndrome. It is a weakness that starts from the limbs upwards,” he said.
When asked what is the likely cause, the commissioner said the causes are multifactorial and can be as a result of bacterial, fungal, or viral infection.
Dr. Ngbea, however, allayed the fears of the likely spread of the disease to other schools, considering that students of the college who may have siblings at other schools have been sent back to their families as the school remains closed.
The WHO says Guillain-Barré syndrome is potentially life-threatening.
“People with Guillain-Barré syndrome should be treated and monitored; some may need intensive care. Treatment includes supportive care and some immunological therapies,” the global health agency said.
According to WHO, symptoms typically last a few weeks, with most individuals recovering without long-term, severe neurological complications.
- The first symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome include weakness or tingling sensations. They usually start in the legs, and can spread to the arms and face.
- For some people, these symptoms can lead to paralysis of the legs, arms, or muscles in the face. In 20%–30 % of people, the chest muscles are affected, making it hard to breathe.
- The ability to speak and swallow may become affected in severe cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome. These cases are considered life-threatening, and affected individuals should be treated in intensive-care units.
- Most people recover fully from even the most severe cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, although some continue to experience weakness.
- Even in the best of settings, 3%–5% of Guillain-Barré syndrome patients die from complications, which can include paralysis of the muscles that control breathing, blood infection, lung clots, or cardiac arrest.
The UN agency says Guillain-Barré syndrome is often preceded by an infection. “This could be a bacterial or viral infection. Guillain-Barré syndrome may also be triggered by vaccine administration or surgery,” it notes.
Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke say Guillain-Barré syndrome is neither contagious nor genetic.
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