Study Links Guillain-Barre Syndrome With Hepatitis C

According to a story from Infectious Disease Advisor, a study has found that infection with the hepatitis C virus and cryoglobulinemia (high levels of cold sensitive antibodies) can lead to the development of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease. The virus has specifically been linked to a subtype of the syndrome that presents with severe motor sensory axonal neuropathy. This case study followed a man aged 56 years who had a history of intravenous drug abuse going back 28 years.

About Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)

Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune disease which is characterized by rapid onset muscle weakness. This is caused by the immune system inflicting damage on the peripheral nervous system. The symptoms can appear in a little as a few hours or over the course of a few weeks. The trigger that causes the autoimmune response is linked to an infection of the digestive tract or respiratory tract in most cases. The infections are often linked to Campylobacter jejuni or cytomegalovirus. Other infections can also serve as potential triggers. Symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome include sensations like numbness, pain, or tingling, progressive muscle weakness affecting the arms, legs, and face, pain, and difficulty swallowing. Some patients may experience respiratory failure, which is a medical emergency. Treatment includes interventions to restore breathing ability, immunotherapy, and rehabilitation to restore movement and muscle strength. To learn more about Guillain-Barré syndrome, click here.

The Case Study

The patient also faced a history of respiratory failure because of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, likely the result of a projected 36 pack year history of tobacco use. The patient was receiving treatment with buprenorphine to manage substance addiction. He was ultimately admitted to the ER after complaints of muscle weakness of the limbs. 

A year before the admission, the patient demonstrated clear signs of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, such as elevated liver enzymes, the presence of anti-HCV antibodies, and a viral RNA load of 87 IU/ml. Four months before the hospitalization, the presence of infection was further confirmed.

Symptoms of quadriplegia and absent reflexes caused the doctors to suspect Guillain-Barré syndrome and the patient received treatment with intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and two months of treatment using antiviral agents. Three months following the initial incident, the patient was in remission, discharged for rehab, and has not experienced relapse.

The scientists concluded that this case suggests that Guillain-Barré syndrome should be added to the list of potential manifestations of hepatitis C outside of the liver itself, and that infection could be a direct cause of the condition. 

Learn more about this unusual case here.

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