New research links the rare neurological disease Guillain-Barré syndrome with Covid-19. The study looked at millions of people in Israel and found that those with a recent history of Covid-19 infection had a significantly higher risk of developing Guillain-Barré than those without the infection. Conversely, the Covid-19 vaccination appeared to be associated with a lower risk of later illness.
Guillain Barre syndrome (GBS) is caused when the immune system accidentally attacks the peripheral nervous system, the network of nerves that connects almost everything else to the brain and spinal cord. This damage causes rapid muscle weakness and paralysis, which can sometimes be life-threatening when it affects the muscles that control our breathing. Most people with GBS recover completely, but for some it can take years around a fifth of those affected may be left with long-term symptoms. Musician Sufjan Stevens revealed last month that he was being treated for the syndrome.
The condition is incredibly rare, with only about 3,000 to 6,000 cases estimated to occur annually in the United States. There are several risk factors for GBS, such as being over 50, but the most common appears to be a recent infection. About two thirds of cases are preceded by a gastrointestinal or respiratory illness days or weeks before. Many germs are considered potential GBS triggers, including Epstein-Barr virus, influenza and food-borne bacteria Campylobacter jejuni.
Given the recent emergence of a new viral disease with Covid-19, the study authors wanted to know whether the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus should be added to this long list.
“We wanted to investigate whether this new virus, like others before it, could lead to GBS, especially since we had the subjective impression that there was an increase in GBS cases in our daily practice and we wanted to see whether there was a connection or not “purely by chance,” lead study author Haya Bishara, a neurologist at Lady Davis Carmel Medical Center in Israel, said in an email to Gizmodo.
GBS is also sometimes thought to be a rare complication of certain vaccines, such as the flu vaccine, although this risk is generally lower than the risk associated with the target disease. Therefore, Bishara’s team also investigated a possible connection between the syndrome and the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Researchers used data from Israel’s largest healthcare provider to track the health status of over 3 million people in the country who had no history of GBS between January 2021 and June 2022. In total, 76 patients were newly diagnosed with GBS during this period, and the authors compared their most recent medical history (six weeks ago) with matched controls in the same population. This comparison revealed a clear pattern regarding both Covid-19 infection and vaccination.
“Our results showed that patients infected with Covid-19 are six times more likely to develop GBS, while people vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are more likely to develop GBS develop has been reduced by over 50%,” said Bishara.
your insights, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, sign up previous research and case reports suggesting a link between Covid-19 and GBS. Other studies have found similar There is no clear connection between GBS and the mRNA Covid-19 vaccination, although there is a possible connection with other vaccines. And while GBS of any kind is a very rare problem, it’s important to simply make the connection, especially given that Covid-19 will be a regular part of our lives for the foreseeable future. Bishara also hopes her research will comfort people worried about the risks of Covid-19 vaccination, which remains a key strategy for reducing the risk of illness and death from the disease.
“Misinterpretation of the consequences of a vaccine can lead to very serious consequences, including complete abolition of vaccinations and serious preventable diseases. We hope that people reading this article will now have more confidence in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines,” Bishara said.
The team is now focusing on other research, but Bishara wants other scientists to further investigate why mRNA Covid-19 vaccines appear to reduce the risk of GBS. For example, is it because the vaccination simply reduces the risk of infection with Covid-19, or is there another, more direct effect?