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Zika and Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an uncommon sickness of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness, and sometimes, paralysis.

  • The Brazil Ministry of Health has reported an increased number of people who have been infected with Zika virus who also have GBS.
  •  GBS is very likely triggered by Zika in a small proportion of infections, much as it is after a variety of other infections.
  • CDC is investigating the link between Zika and GBS.

Symptoms of GBS

GBS symptoms include weakness of the arms and legs that is usually the same on both sides of the body. In some cases, the muscles of the face that control eye movement or swallowing may also become weak. In the most serious cases, this muscle weakness can affect breathing, and people sometimes need a breathing tube to help them breathe.

These symptoms can last a few weeks or several months. Although most people fully recover from GBS, some people have permanent damage, and in 1 out of 20 cases people have died.

Causes of GBS

Researchers do not fully understand what causes GBS. Most people with GBS report a bacterial or viral infection before they have GBS symptoms. Rarely, vaccination has also been associated with the onset of GBS (i.e., 1976 Swine influenza vaccine). In many cases, however, because the onset of GBS appears to occur days to weeks after a sickness is over, it is difficult to say whether the illness/vaccination “caused” GBS.

GBS is rare

An estimated 3,000 to 6,000 people, or 1-2 cases for every 100,000 people, develop GBS each year in the US. Most cases of GBS tend to occur for no known reason, and true “clusters” of cases of GBS are very unusual.

What to do if you are concerned

If you are concerned about the number of GBS cases in your area, notify the state or local health department in the state where the cases happen. CDC collaborates with state and local health departments to investigate reports of possibly unusually large numbers or “clusters” of GBS cases.

Additional Resources

Vaccine Safety Concerns- Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome and Flu Vaccine: Questions and Answers