Peru’s Guillain-Barré Syndrome Outbreak Prompts Health Emergency Declaration

The government in Peru has declared a 90-day national state of emergency after a spike in cases of the rare neurological disorder GBS (Guillain-Barre syndrome) which leads the body’s immune system to attack the nerves. The illness, which can sometimes also cause paralysis, can be life-threatening in the most severe cases. GBS is an auto-immune disease that affects the peripheral nervous system, which is responsible for transmitting messages from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. This is where the symptoms start, with weakness, tingling, and numbness usually starting in the legs and moving upwards to other body parts.

In the most severe cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, patients can experience muscle weakness that moves up to the chest and arms, causing difficulty breathing and a loss of coordination. People with GBS can also die due to complications like blood infection, lung clots, and cardiac arrest.

It is not clear why some people get GBS, but it is believed that the immune system may mistakenly identify the body’s nerve fibers as foreign. During GBS, special white blood cells destroy the myelin sheath surrounding many nerves’ axons. This causes the nerves to lose their ability to signal to the muscles and the brain. The weakness can progress over hours, days, or weeks, eventually rendering specific muscles non-functional.

According to Xinhua, the health ministry in Peru has already made arrangements to purchase immunoglobulin to treat patients with GBS. It also plans to strengthen prevention, surveillance, and response action and intensify health education campaigns for the public.

Affected persons are encouraged to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Anyone with symptoms of GBS should contact their nearest health center or hospital.

The country’s Health Minister, Cesar Vasquez, said, “There has been a significant surge in recent weeks, which forces us to take measures as a state to safeguard the lives and health of our people.” GBS is a rare but potentially fatal condition that can cause weakness, tingling, or numbness that usually starts in the legs and feet and then moves up toward the arms and the chest. It can also lead to breathing difficulties and the inability to speak or swallow. The most severe cases of GBS result from an abnormal increase in antibodies that attack the nerves, preventing them from sending messages to the brain and spinal cord, leading to muscle weakness. It usually strikes within a few days and can be life-threatening in the most severe forms. However, most of those affected recover fully in time. Those that do not can still suffer from long-term weakness and disability. It is estimated that the number of cases has increased in the past two decades due to a rise in infections, including shingles, influenza, and rotavirus.

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