U.S., Mexico Guillian-Barré Syndrome Outbreak Tied to Food Poisoning

An outbreak of Guillian-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is being seen in an area on the United States-Mexico border and is believed to be related to food poisoning, according to health officials in both countries.

Guillian-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is a severe neurological disorder that may occur either spontaneously or after certain infections and generally causes increasing weakness in the legs and arms that can be severe and require hospitalization. An inflammatory disorder of the peripheral nerves, Guillain-Barre Syndrome is relatively rare—affecting about 1 person in every 100,000 per year. The causes of Guillain-Barre Syndrome are not known; however, in about half of all cases, onset follows of a viral or bacterial infection, including campylobacteriosis, the infection caused by the Campylobacter bacteria.

In the past month alone, nearly two dozen have fallen ill with GBS in Yuma County, Arizona, and San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico. Some, said MSNBC, have become significantly ill. “It’s really attacking the nerves,” said Shoana Anderson, office chief of infectious disease at the Arizona Department of Health Services. “All of the patients I’ve seen are not able to walk,” Anderson said, wrote MSNBC.
While younger people have fallen ill, most have been between 40 and 70 years of age; 17 are from Mexico and 7 from the U.S. and some have experienced upper body and leg muscle weakness, said MSNBC. According to Anderson, it remains unclear how long recovery will take.

Because of the rarity of GBS, this cluster is a significant cause for concern, said MSNBC, citing government health statistics. And, while GBS
can go away on its own, the process can be long and painful and can, in some cases, leave patients debilitated.

This GBS outbreak, reported MSNBC, appears to have originated with a Campylobacter bacterial outbreak, with at least four people diagnosed with GBS also having been diagnosed with campylobacter, leading officials to believe that other GBS patients were also infected with the dangerous foodborne illness.

Campylobacter—one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the U.S.—usually infects people via tainted poultry, milk, and water. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain, followed by diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nausea, with these symptoms appearing two-to-five days after consuming tainted food or beverages and lasting up to 10 days. Campylobacter infection infects some 2.4 million people annually, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to MSNBC.

Meanwhile, a bi-country investigation continues between the U.S. and Mexico in search of new Campylobacter outbreaks and to locate the source of the illnesses, said MSNBC. Some U.S. states—for instance Wyoming, which is reporting a four-fold increase—are reporting more cases of the foodborne illness.

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