By Jack Phillips
Peruvian authorities declared a 90-day emergency over an “unusual increase” in Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disorder that is linked to certain vaccines, the Zika virus, COVID-19, and other viruses, according to reports.
President Dina Booluarte issued a decree over the weekend that about $3.2 million will be used to improve patient care, increase control on detections, and other measures, the Peruvian health ministry said in a social media post. Emergency measures include acquiring intravenous immunoglobulin and human albumin, manufactured from human plasma.
“Government declares health emergency due to unusual increase in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome,” said the ministry on Facebook.
The unusual decrease in cases of the rare disease “negatively affects the continuity of health services, as there are not enough strategic resources to respond to the volume and complexity of the cases in the different health facilities,” said the decree, which was published in the Peruvian government’s official gazette, according to MercoPress, a newswire service.
Officials say that 182 cases have been reported around Peru, 147 of them have been discharged from the hospital, 31 people are still hospitalized, and four died. The health emergency goes into effect in all 25 regions of Peru, officials told the AFP news agency.
“There has been a significant increase in recent weeks that forces us to take actions as a State to protect the health and life of the population,” Health Minister César Vásquez told the news agency.
Guillain-Barré syndrome, often abbreviated as GBS, is described by U.S. government health officials as a “rare neurological disorder in which your immune system mistakenly attacks part of the peripheral nervous system,” ranging from very mild symptoms with a short period of weakness to a “nearly devastating paralysis” that leaves one “unable to breathe independently.”
But it noted that “most people eventually recover from even the most severe cases of GBS,” according to the U.S. National Institute of Health’s website. “After recovery, some people will continue to have some degree of weakness.”
When an individual develops GBS, the myelin sheaths of peripheral nerves are targeted and weakened, according to a Medical News Today article. It’s not contagious and can’t be transmitted from person to person, it notes.
“The damage prevents the nerves from sending certain information, such as touch sensations, to the spinal cord and brain. This causes a feeling of numbness. In addition, the brain and spinal cord can no longer transmit signals back to the body, leading to muscle weakness,” says the website.
Initial symptoms include a weakness and tingling in the hands and feet, or pain the back and legs. The symptoms often start about three weeks after an infection.
In the United States, about one in 100,000 people are likely to develop the syndrome, the article also says.
There have been studies and data suggesting a link between certain vaccines, including for COVID-19 and RSV, and GBS. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and agencies in other countries have long listed GBS as a rare yet possible symptom of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, which uses an adenovirus.
Earlier this year, the FDA noted that GBS is a possible risk of Pfizer’s RSV vaccine among older adults. Two people in their 60s who got the shot were diagnosed with GBS out of about 20,000 recipients, according to the FDA, as scientists have also recommended monitoring for GBS after getting the Pfizer RSV shot.
In July 2021, the FDA attached a warning (pdf) to the J&J vaccine about an increased risk of developing GBS up to 42 days after vaccination. The agency made that decision based on reporting from vaccine recipients who submitted adverse event incidents to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which collects information to identify strange patterns among those who are vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “very rarely people have developed GBS in the days or weeks after getting certain vaccines” and again claimed that the “benefits of vaccination far outweigh risks.”
“Most GBS cases usually start a few days or weeks following a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection. Occasionally surgery will trigger the syndrome,” says the National Institutes of Health website.
It adds that “in rare cases vaccinations may increase the risk of GBS,” and “there have been reports of a few people who received a vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus developing GBS, but the chance of this occurring is very low.”
“Some countries worldwide reported an increased incidence of GBS following infection with the Zika virus,” it also said. Peruvian officials have, in previous years, issued warnings about the Zika virus, which is transmitted via certain species of mosquito.
Peru is also dealing with a severe outbreak of dengue fever so far in 2023, although it’s not clear if there is a link between GBS and dengue, a debilitating viral disease spread via mosquitoes. A surge of GBS cases also followed a number of Zika virus infections in French Polynesia between 2012 and 2014, according to reports.