Campylobacter is not the only thing that triggers Guillain-BarrÈ syndrome, but it is now recognized as one of the disorder’s major forerunners. Guillain-BarrÈ, which also may follow a viral illness, is an autoimmune attack on the peripheral nerves that can cause weakness and paralysis. Annually, about two people per 100,000 contract the syndrome.
“We also know that many patients who have [campylobacteriosis] seem to have a more severe form of Guillain-BarrÈ,” Leshner says.
Guillain-BarrÈ can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages, although Leshner says clinicians often suspect anyone with “acute weakness” as having the disorder. It’s usually diagnosed via clinical observation, spinal fluid analysis, and electromyogram (EMG) tests, which analyze electrical activity in muscles.
“With mild cases, probably no more is needed other than supportive care. But if the person is unable to walk or has breathing problems, more dramatic treatments may be needed,” Leshner says. “A small percentage of people have residual disabilities, and these people have the form linked to Campylobacter.”