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09:36 AM

Guillain-Barré syndrome: Are you at risk?

Neurologist provides facts on paralysis-inducing condition, scientists link to Zika

French scientists claim they may have found a link between the Zika virus and neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Warren Marks, M.D., a neurologist and medical director of the Movement Disorders and Rehabilitation Programs at Cook Children’s, says he sees a dozen or more cases often in clusters.

“Influenza can be a trigger, so flu season often triggers some cases,” Dr. Marks said. “There have been some cases associated with mostly older flu vaccines, however in general, immunizations are safe and should be given as recommended. If you are concerned that your child is having progressive weakness, they should be seen by a physician.”

GBS is a condition that can follow many different infections. The process starts after the infection activates the immune system. Sometimes part of the bacteria or virus can look like our own nerves. If this happens, our immune systems can mistakenly attack those nerves which can lead to weakness or paralysis.

At this time, Dr. Marks is not ready to say there’s a relationship to GBS and the ZIka virus. Although it’s not out of the possibility – “there are literally thousands of potential triggers for Guillian Bare’. It is a nonspecific response to an infection.”

GBS can affect people of virtually any age, although it is rare in infants and toddlers. GBS symptoms usually begin with achiness of the muscles or a burning or tingling of the feet and legs.

“Weakness follows, beginning in the feet and progressing up the body, usually over the course of a few days,” Dr. Marks said. “It can occasionally happen more quickly. GBS can involve the diaphragm and breathing muscles which can be life threatening.”

In the mildest cases, monitoring of progress in the hospital is sufficient. If there is loss of ability to walk 100 feet or the weakness is progressing and breathing is endangered, the treatment is usually a five day course of IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin). Steroids and plasma exchange are other options.

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About the source

Warren Marks, M.D., is one of the the first two Endowed Chairs at Cook Children’s. Dr. Marks joined Cook Children’s in 1988 and today serves as the medical director for the Movement Disorder and Neurorehabilitation Program. Learn more about Dr. Marks and the contributions he's made to Cook Children's here.

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