A new study at Michigan State University is the first to show how Campylobacter jejuni triggers Guillain-Barre Syndrome. That complication of the bacterial infection can cause paralysis. If the chicken isn’t cooked to 165°F, the bacteria can survive and cause serious illness. Campylobacter infections have also been caused by raw, or unpasteurized milk and other contaminated products.
Linda Mansfield, lead author and MSU College of Veterinary Medicine professor said, “What our work has told us is that it takes a certain genetic makeup combined with a certain Campylobacter strain to cause this disease. The concerning thing is that many of these strains are resistant to antibiotics and our work shows that treatment with some antibiotics could actually make the disease worse.”
GBS is the number one cause of acute neuromuscular paralysis in people. The exact mechanism of how this disease develops has been a mystery. Scientists produced three preclinical models of GBS that represent two different forms of the syndrome.
GBS is an autoimmune disease, where a person’s immune system erroneously attacks the body. It can be a very severe illness, and treatments, unfortunately, mostly fail. The use of some antibiotics in this study appeared to aggravate neurological lesions and the number of immune antibodies that attack a person’s own organs and tissues. Since people with this syndrome are critical ill, they cannot participate in clinical trials to study the illness.
The symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome caused by Campylobacter bacteria include vomiting and diarrhea. A few days to a few weeks later, those affected develop tingling and weakness in the feet and legs. Paralysis can then spread to the upper body and arms and affect the lungs.
More than a million people every year contract Campylobacter infections. A small percentage of those people develop GBS. Other complications from this illness can include Reiter’s Syndrome, which causes reactive arthritis and eye irritation, and inflammatory bowel disease.
The study’s scientists want to test drugs against the syndrome in their models they study. Mansfield said, “therapeutics to prevent GBS from developing in the first place would be the best strategy so that people don’t have to suffer with paralysis.”