A little less nervous about Covid

The rare and potentially lethal neurological disorder, Guillain-Barré syndrome, is not triggered by Covid nor by vaccination against Covid, recent research suggests.

There was concern during the early months of the Covid pandemic based on anecdotal evidence that there had been an increase in the incidence of a potentially lethal neurological disorder known as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). In this disease, the body’s own immune system attacks peripheral nerves causing numbness, pain, and paralysis. It can be fatal if not treated promptly.

Pain and numbness often spread upwards from the soles of the feet or the hands but can also begin in the scalp and spread downwards. Damage to the nerves involved in breathing can lead to suffocation.

In December, Stephen Keddie* and colleagues published evidence that shows there is no obvious link between infection with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes Covid. Indeed, their evidence (published in the journal Brain) suggests that GBS incidence has been lower than usual during the pandemic.

Lockdown measures, social distancing, face coverings, and hand-washing have been a common feature of the pandemic for the majority of people in the UK. This, Keddie and his colleagues suggest has also led to a decline in the incidence of gastrointestinal infection, such as Campylobacter jejuni and infection with other respiratory viruses. There is evidence that GBS is sometimes a reaction to infection with C. jejuni where the immune system mistakenly attacks nerve cells instead of the bacterium. Far rarer is the incidence of GBS following vaccination against influenza.

Supplementary work from Keddie and his colleagues has also shown that there is no risk of GBS associated with Covid vaccination.

I think if anything, like the flu vaccine, that risk would be about one in a million, Keddie told Sciencebase. We know the risks of COVID are far higher. I have spent time recently working on neurology wards and visiting the intensive care departments and the risks of not getting the vaccine are very clear to see, he adds.
*Department of Neuromuscular Diseases, University College London and National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust