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Rare nervous disease is increasing: Peru declares a health emergency

More people than usual are suffering from a life-threatening nervous condition in Peru. The country has declared a health emergency.

The first symptoms are often tingling and numbness in the legs, arms or face. Then individual muscle groups fail and later the entire body is paralyzed. Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is a rare nervous disorder.

Because the disease occurs in Peru with above-average frequency, the country has now declared a health emergency. “Due to the unusual increase in cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a national health emergency is declared for 90 days,” the Peruvian Ministry of Health said.

All 25 regions of the Andean country with a total of around 33 million inhabitants are affected. In the past few weeks there has been a high increase in cases, “which is forcing us to take measures at state level to protect the health and life of the population,” Health Minister Cesar Vasquez told journalists.

Four people have died so far

Since January, the number of cases has risen to 180, and four people have already died. The declaration of a health emergency therefore enables the purchase of immunoglobulins for the treatment of affected people over the next two years.

Immunoglobulins (antibodies) are proteins that the body uses to fight off infections. In the therapy of Guillain-Barré syndrome, the administration of additional antibodies is the means of choice to prevent severe courses.

GBS is usually preceded by upper respiratory or gastrointestinal disease, such as infection with Campylobacter bacteria. Dengue and Zika viruses can also be triggers. Usually it remains in isolated cases, outbreaks are rare.

In Peru, however, a larger wave was recorded in 2019. From May 20 to July 27, 683 suspected or confirmed GBS cases were identified, according to a 2020 analysis presented in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. In French Polynesia, a surge in GBS cases followed a wave of Zika infections in 2013/14.

German soccer professional was affected

Guillain-Barré Syndrome is a neurological condition that causes progressive muscle weakness. The muscle weakness usually worsens within two to four weeks and can affect the respiratory system – up to and including respiratory arrest.

One of the most common symptoms is tingling and weakness in the extremities. If the disease is treated, it can usually be cured quickly. Guillain-Barré syndrome has been repeatedly linked to vaccinations against Covid-19 in recent months.

A well-known sufferer from Guillain-Barré syndrome is the former professional soccer player Markus Babbel. He fell ill in 2021 and suffered from symptoms of the disease such as temporary paralysis of the legs. Babbel was treated and made a full recovery.

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