Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Johnson & Johnson: Everything You Need To Know

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On Monday, the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) warned of an increased risk of Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological disorder, following the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after 100 preliminary cases of the syndrome were reported among the 12.5M doses administered.

What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks nerves. Weakness and tingling in extremities are usually the first symptoms. These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body.

The FDA noted that 95 of the cases were serious and required hospitalization. There was one death.

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While the FDA said it’s updating vaccination materials for health care providers and patients to note an “association” between the vaccine and risk of GBS, the agency said the data are “insufficient to establish a causal relationship.” And, the agency added, it still recommends the vaccine to prevent the serious health risks posed by COVID-19.

Johnson and Johnson said it has discussed the reports with federal regulators at the Food and Drug Administration. “The chance of having this occur is very low, and the rate of reported cases exceeds the background rate by a small degree,” the company said in a statement released Monday.

Similar issues have not been reported in any other vaccines.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome Fact Sheet

Causes of Guillain-Barre Syndrome:

  1. According to the CDC, the causes of GBS are not yet fully known but in most cases, GBS is preceded by an infection. This could be a bacterial or viral infection, according to the WHO. GBS may also be triggered by vaccine administration or surgery.

  2. Normally the immune system uses antibodies (molecules produced in an immune response) and special white blood cells to protect us by attacking infecting microorganisms (bacteria and viruses). In Guillain-Barré syndrome, however, the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy nerves.

  3. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the US’s National Institutes of Health, GBS is neither contagious nor hereditary. It is called an autoimmune disease as the damage is caused by the body’s own immune system.

Symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome:

The WHO lists the following symptoms for the Guillain-Barré syndrome:

  1. The first symptoms include weakness or tingling sensation, which usually starts in the legs, and can spread to the arms and face.
  2. For some people, these symptoms can lead to paralysis of the legs, arms, or muscles in the face.
  3. In 20 to 30 percent of cases, the chest muscles are affected, making it hard to breathe.
  4. In severe cases, the ability to speak and swallow may become affected. These cases are considered life-threatening, and affected individuals should be treated in intensive-care units.
  5. Complications can include paralysis of the muscles that control breathing, blood infection, lung clots, or cardiac arrest and even in the best of settings, 3–5 percent of patients suffering from the syndrome die from the complications.
  6. The NINDS also lists difficulty with eye muscles and vision, co-ordination problems and unsteadiness, pain that can be severe, particularly at night, abnormal heart beat/rate or blood pressure, and problems with digestion and/or bladder control as probably symtpoms. It states that most people seek medical care following weakness on both sides of the body.
  7. Occasionally symptoms start in the upper body and move down to the legs and feet, the NINDS adds.

FAQs:

What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks nerves. Weakness and tingling in extremities are usually the first symptoms. These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body.

What are the symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

1. Difficulty with eye muscles and vision
2. Difficulty swallowing, speaking or chewing
3. Pricking or pins and needles sensations in the hands and feet
4. Pain that can be severe, particularly at night
5. Coordination problems and unsteadiness
6. Abnormal heartbeat/rate or blood pressure
7. Problems with digestion and/or bladder control.

Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome effects any specific age group?

No, It can affect any age group.

Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome has severe complications?

The global health body states that the symptoms typically last a few weeks but most people most recover fully from even the most severe case of Guillain-Barré syndrome. While some continue to experience weakness, most recover without long-term, severe neurological complications.

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