A national health emergency has been declared in Peru, which is rocked by an “unusual increase” in rare Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) cases.
Though the Health Ministry is taking all efforts to analyse the reasons behind the sudden spike in the rare auto-immune disease, researchers believe that behind the recent outbreak there could be link with the increase in Zika virus cases.
A 90-day national state of emergency is declared in Peru. According to the official statement released by Ministry of Health, it “will allow the authorities to speed up the purchase of supplies and medicines to deal with the unusual increase in reported cases.”
“There has been a significant increase in recent weeks that force us to take actions as a State to protect the health and life of the population,” said Peruvian Minister of Health Cesar Vasquez.
Reportedly, over 180 GBS cases and four deaths were reported in Peru so far.
Outbreaks were even reported in Latin America during Zika virus epidemic. With the Covid-19 outbreak, the concerns of GBS was raised globally.
What is Guillian-Barre syndrome?
GBS is a rare auto-immune disease that affects the body’s immune system. In this case, the immune system of the body starts attacking the nervous system. It could affect any peripheral nervous system outside brain and spinal cord.
Also, in most of the cases, GBS is triggered by other infections. Respiratory and gastrointestinal infections could trigger the virus. Studies have found that even Covid-19 infections could trigger it. Viruses like cytomegalovirus, and Epstein-Barr virus could trigger the virus.
Experts point out that it would be extremely difficult to identify the illness during its initial phases.
Recovery is slow over the months, however, in some cases it is completely cured as well. Life-long medications and therapy sessions are required in majority of the cases. GBS could lead to a total paralysis state and in severe cases it could be fatal.
Symptoms of GBS
The initial symptoms include weakness of hands and legs. The weakness slowly spreads to the whole upper body and later leading it to paralysis.
Inability to climb the stairs, difficulty in facial movements including speaking and swallowing, difficulty in breathing, double vision, low or high blood pressure, cramplike pain especially during night, and difficulty with bladder control are some of the main symptoms.
However, the exact cause of the disease is still unknown.
How is it diagnosed
GBS is revealed through neurologic examination.
In the first half of this year itself there has been over 240 deaths due to Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spread diseases including dengue, Zika and chikungunya.
“Dengue could be an explanation, but a broader analysis is needed to make sure that other agents are not behind this situation, said Infectologist Raquel Stucchi from the State University of Campinas, in Brazil told BBC.
The health ministry said between 3 percent and 5 percent of Guillain-Barre cases are fatal.
It is not the first time Peru has declared a state of national emergency due to the GBS outbreak. In 2018 and 2019 too GBS outbreak was reported in Peru. Deaths were also reported relating to the disease.
The study published in the National Library of Medicine, a United States based website, showed that the 2019 Peruvian GBS outbreak was associated with the C jejuni infection. C jejuni, the pathogenic bacteria is the most common causes of gastrointestinal issues including food poisoning.
From 59 cases in 2017, the GBS cases increased to 262 in 2018 and 1,120 in 2019.
The outbreaks had a seasonal pattern as well with most of the cases reported between April and July.
Last year, there were around 500 confirmed cases and 5,269 suspected cases of Zika in Peru, according to the health ministry data.
GBS cases were also reported in various countries including Latin America.