Guillain-Barré Syndrome and the Zika Connection
Typically an uncommon illness, Guillain-Barré syndrome has been reported at increasing rates in countries hit by the Zika virus. According to the CDC, only a small percentage of those infected with Zika develop Guillain-Barré, which can cause nerve cell damage resulting in muscle weakness or, in extreme cases, paralysis.
“While the cause is unknown, Guillain-Barré syndrome typically occurs after a respiratory or gastrointestinal infection and can be triggered by bacteria or viruses like influenza or Epstein-Barr,” explains Blake Hoppe, DO, an osteopathic neurologist.
Focusing on preventive care, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, consider how environmental and lifestyle factors impact your health. They also partner with their patients to help them get healthy and stay well.
Know the Symptoms
Guillain-Barré is a rare autoimmune disorder that attacks your nervous system. Symptoms may last a few weeks or several months and can include:
- Muscle weakness that typically begins in your legs and works its way up your body.
- Difficulty walking.
- Tingling sensations that typically start in your feet and may spread.
“In very severe cases, the disorder could cause paralysis or become life-threatening,” Dr. Hoppe explains, adding that most people recover from the disorder but may experience lingering effects.
Dr. Hoppe suggests seeing a physician if you experience a worsening or spreading tingling sensation in your fingers or toes. “We’ll want to monitor closely for respiratory failure and any cardiac dysfunction,” she adds.
Guillain-Barré can be diagnosed by:
- A spinal tap, which tests spinal fluid.
- An electromyogram with nerve conduction to measure muscle activity and the speed of nerve signals.
Once a diagnosis is made, Guillain-Barré can be treated with plasma exchange or immunoglobulin therapy, which delivers healthy antibodies through intravenous therapy. Patients often also need physical therapy to get their muscles moving again.
Tips to Prevent Zika Virus
Although there isn’t a way to prevent Guillain-Barré, Dr. Hoppe says patients can take steps to prevent getting Zika by avoiding mosquito bites and contacting their local health department with any questions about traveling to endemic areas.