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No link seen between COVID-19, Guillain-Barré syndrome

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Between March and May 2020, the incidence patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome was 40% to 50% lower than in the same months of 2016 to 2019, a new study found. CDC/UPI
Between March and May 2020, the incidence patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome was 40% to 50% lower than in the same months of 2016 to 2019, a new study found. CDC/UPI | License Photo

There's no evidence of a link between COVID-19 and a serious neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, British researchers say.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare autoimmune condition that attacks the peripheral nervous system, typically causing numbness, weakness and pain. In severe cases, it can cause paralysis and is sometimes fatal.

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The exact cause isn't known, but the syndrome often occurs after a gastroenteritis infection called Camplylobacter, with the immune system mistakenly attacking nerves instead of germs.

Previous research found an increase in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome during Zika virus outbreaks in Latin America, and some studies have raised concern about a possible link between COVID-19 infection and the syndrome.

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For the new study, researchers from University College London compared cases of Guillain-Barré in the United Kingdom between 2016 and 2019 to those during the coronavirus pandemic in the first half of 2020.

The annual incidence of patients with Guillain-Barré who were treated in hospitals between 2016 and 2019 topped out at 1.88 per 100,000 people. Between March and May 2020, it was 40% to 50% lower than in the same months of 2016 to 2019, according to the study published Dec. 14 in the journal Brain.

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The authors said their findings contradict those of smaller studies and should reassure people.

RELATED COVID-19 leaving patients with neurological harm, even moderate cases

"The possibility of SARS-CoV-2 driving a global spike in GBS has been eagerly monitored with a number of published small case series already asserting a causal link," said first author Stephen Keddie of the Department of Neuromuscular Disease.

"Our epidemiological study shows there was no increased incidence in GBS during the first wave of COVID-19; rather, there was a decrease and therefore no causal link of COVID-19 to GBS can be made," he said in a university news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on Guillain-Barré syndrome.

SOURCE: University College London, news release, Dec. 13, 2020
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