FRIDAY, Dec. 18, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- There's no evidence of a link between COVID-19 and a serious neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, British researchers say.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare autoimmune condition that attacks the peripheral nervous system, typically causing numbness, weakness and pain. In severe cases, it can cause paralysis and is sometimes fatal.
The exact cause isn't known, but the syndrome often occurs after a gastroenteritis infection called Camplylobacter, with the immune system mistakenly attacking nerves instead of germs.
Previous research found an increase in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome during Zika virus outbreaks in Latin America, and some studies have raised concern about a possible link between COVID-19 infection and the syndrome.
For the new study, researchers from University College London compared cases of Guillain-Barré in the United Kingdom between 2016 and 2019 to those during the coronavirus pandemic in the first half of 2020.
The annual incidence of patients with Guillain-Barré who were treated in hospitals between 2016 and 2019 topped out at 1.88 per 100,000 people. Between March and May 2020, it was 40% to 50% lower than in the same months of 2016 to 2019, according to the study published Dec. 14 in the journal Brain.
The authors said their findings contradict those of smaller studies and should reassure people.
"The possibility of SARS-CoV-2 driving a global spike in GBS has been eagerly monitored with a number of published small case series already asserting a causal link," said first author Stephen Keddie of the Department of Neuromuscular Disease.
"Our epidemiological study shows there was no increased incidence in GBS during the first wave of COVID-19; rather, there was a decrease and therefore no causal link of COVID-19 to GBS can be made," he said in a university news release.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on Guillain-Barré syndrome.
SOURCE: University College London, news release, Dec. 13, 2020