Researchers at Rutgers University have reported the first instance of COVID-19 triggering a recurrence of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare and potentially deadly disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves.
There have been multiple reports of Guillain-Barré after bouts with the coronavirus, but this is the first in which the deadly bug actually triggered a recurrence of the syndrome, the researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School said.
A 54-year-old man who had suffered with Guillain-Barré Syndrome twice had a third occurrence after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Rutgers case report published in the journal Pathogens.
“The patient came to the emergency room with complaints of progressive difficulty swallowing, then had a fever for three days, followed by weakness in the arms, legs and face,” said Erin McDonnell, a medical student who made the discovery, according to the university.
“His symptoms were worse this time than in previous episodes. He has since recovered,” McDonnell added.
The researchers studied some 1,200 coronavirus patients who were admitted and discharged between March and May 2020 — and this was the only instance in which COVID-19 triggered the Guillain-Barré recurrence.
The condition can follow acute viral and bacterial infections, causing symptoms including weakness and tingling in the extremities.
In later stages, the weakness quickly spreads, eventually paralyzing the whole body at times.
While most people recover from Guillain-Barré, about 5 percent of people experience a recurrence, McDonnell said.
“We recommend that patients who develop COVID-19 and have a history of autoimmune [demyelinating] disorders in which the body’s immune system attacks the myelin that insulates and protects their nerves be closely observed for several weeks for neurologic symptoms,” said Payal Parikh, assistant professor at the medical school, who led the study along with Martin Blaser, director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine.