GBS (Guillain-Barre Syndrome), Influenza and Vaccines

Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) also known as; Acute inflammatory polyneuropathy, Infectious polyneuritis, Acute idiopathic polyneuritis, French Polio, Landry’s ascending paralysis and Landry-Guillain-Barre, is the most common cause of rapidly acquired paralysis in the United States today. Anyone can get GBS, but it is far more common in adults than children. Adults over 50 years of age are 2-3 times more likely to get GBS than younger people. Each year, between 6,000 and 9,100 people in the United States get GBS according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), which amounts to about 2 -3 people per 100’000.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disorder that causes your immune system to attack your peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS nerves connect your brain and spinal cord with the rest of your body. Damage to these nerves makes it hard for them to transmit signals. As a result, your muscles have trouble responding to your brain. Weakness and numbness in your extremities are usually the first symptoms. These sensations can quickly spread and over time paralyze your whole body. The good news is that the paralysis that goes with GBS is usually temporary. No one knows what causes the syndrome. Sometimes it is triggered by an infection, surgery or a vaccination.

Although severe cases of GBS are life-threatening, most of the people who do get Guillain-Barre syndrome recover and are able to return to their normal lives and activities. You might need a respirator to breathe. Symptoms usually worsen over a period of weeks, and then stabilize. There is no known cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome, but several treatment options which may include Plasma exchange (a blood "cleansing" procedure) and high dose intravenous immune globulins can ease symptoms and are often helpful to shorten the course of GBS.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

GBS/CIDP Foundation International

flu-and-vaccines Seasonal Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness and infects between 5-20% of the US population annually. Flu seasons, typically run from November to April and each year on average more than 200,000 people in the USA are hospitalized for respiratory illnesses and heart conditions related to seasonal influenza virus infections. The majority of people who get the flu recover completely in 1 to 2 weeks, but not everyone will. Some people develop serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications, such as pneumonia causing about 36,000 people death each year in the USA from flu related complications. Older people, those age 65 and older, children younger than 2 years old and people with certain health conditions such as Asthma, Lung and Heart disease, Diabetes and certain types of Arthritis are especially at risk for serious flu complications.

2009 H1N1 (sometimes called “swine flu”) is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. The novel 2009 H1N1 virus is is contagious, spreading from person-to-person worldwide, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread. About 70 percent of people who have been hospitalized with this 2009 H1N1 virus have had one or more medical conditions previously recognized as placing people at “high risk” of serious seasonal flu-related complications. This includes pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, lung and kidney disease and severe obesity.

In 1976, vaccination with the swine flu vaccine was associated with getting GBS (Guillain-Barre Syndrome). Several studies have been done to evaluate if other flu vaccines since 1976 were associated with GBS. Only one of the studies showed an association. That study suggested that one person out of 1 million vaccinated persons may be at risk of GBS associated with the vaccine.

The risk of contracting GBS from the flu is much higher, and the risk of dying from the flu is much higher and people should make informed decisions, informed by all the facts and not just scary anecdotes.

People who have a life-threatening allergy to chicken eggs should not be vaccinated because the viruses used to make vaccines are grown in chicken eggs.

* In an Executive Report to the President, The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology included the following:

While the precise impact of the fall resurgence of 2009-H1N1 influenza is impossible to predict, a plausible scenario is that the epidemic could; 

· produce infection of 30–50% of the U.S. population this fall and winter, with symptoms in approximately 20–40% of the population (60–120 million people), more than half of whom would seek medical attention.

· lead to as many as 1.8 million U.S. hospital admissions during the epidemic, with up to 300,000 patients requiring care in intensive care units (ICUs). Importantly, these very ill patients could occupy 50–100 percent of all ICU beds in affected regions of the country at the peak of the epidemic and could place enormous stress on ICU units, which normally operate close to capacity.

· cause between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths in the United States, concentrated among children and young adults, in contrast to the already 30,000–40,000 annual deaths typically associated with seasonal flu in the United States taking place mainly among people over the age of 65. As a result, 2009-H1N1 would lead to many more years of life lost.

· pose especially high risks for individuals with certain pre-existing conditions, including pregnant women and patients with neurological disorders or respiratory impairment, diabetes, or severe obesity and possibly for certain populations, such as Native Americans.

* For a full report click here

Vaccination is the best protection against contracting the flu and to prevent influenza infection and its complications. To find 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) and seasonal flu vaccines where you live, visit the Flu Vaccine Locater on the FLU.gov website .