Reports of association between neurological conditions and COVID-19 have been increasing. In particular, health experts are looking at Guillain-Barre Syndrome and its occurrence in some coronavirus patients.
According to Mayo Clinic, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the nerves. The usual first symptoms patients experience are weakness and tingling sensations in the extremities.
The condition involves damage to the nerve's myelin sheath. The protective covering wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function. Without the myelin sheath, neurologic signals that go through a nerve are either slowed or lost. Because of this, nerve malfunction is bound to happen.
It isn't the first time experts see a correlation between the neurologic disease and pandemics. In previous outbreaks of other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, health professionals have also observed some cases developing GBS.
Health experts fear that not all patients seek prompt medical care when it comes to experiencing symptoms. Symptoms such as prolonged headache, vision loss, and muscle weakness must not be ignored. They say that seeking timely medical evaluation for such neurological symptoms can help treat many of these neurologic diseases.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Previous Pandemics
Previous studies have shown an increase in GBS cases after the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a plausible connection. Researchers speculate the cause to be due to the body's own immune response to fight the infection turning on itself and instead of attacking the peripheral nerves.
Although there is a clear suspicion that an infection of the coronavirus can lead to GBS, many questions still remain pertaining to how often it occurs in COVID-19 patients compared to those infected with other viruses. Furthermore, it also remains unclear what the chances are that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or after a COVID-19 infection.
COVID-19 and GBS
So far, there have been ten reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome worldwide. There are two reported cases in the United States, five in Italy, two cases in Iran, and one from Wuhan, China.
Health experts believe it is certainly possible that other cases have not been reported. Furthermore, the Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively investigating how often neurological problems appear in hospitalized coronavirus patients.
Additionally, researchers say that just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, it does not automatically imply that the virus caused it. Experts still consider the possibility that it was just a coincidental occurrence.
Although the reported cases of GBS so far all have had severe symptoms, such a display of symptoms is not uncommon in a pandemic situation. Generally, statistics reveal that the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover if given enough time. Moreover, scientists believe that further research is needed to understand how the two conditions are related.