COVID-19-associated Guillain-Barre syndrome

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Rinky Agnes Botleroo, M.B.B.S.,Niloofarsadaat Eshaghhosseiny, MD[2], Fahimeh Shojaei, M.D.

Synonyms and keywords:


The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic originated in Wuhan (China) on December 2019.Although respiratory complications are more common, neurological manifestations are also increasingly reported. Guillain-Barre syndrome is preceded by upper respiratory infection or gastrointestinal illness. In June 2020,the very first case of COVID-19 associated Guillain-barre syndrome in the United States was reported. The polyneuropathy in Guillain–Barre syndrome is believed to be due to cross-immunity against epitopes of peripheral nerve components that it shares with the epitopes on the cell surface of bacteria that produces an antecedent infection. If left untreated, COVID-19 associated GBS may cause respiratory failure. The classic clinical manifestations of Guillain-Barre syndrome is progressive, ascending, symmetrical flaccid limbs paralysis.

Historical Perspective

  • In northern Italy five patients developed Guillain–Barré syndrome after the onset of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) from February 28 through March 21, 2020.[2]
  • In June 2020,the very first case of COVID-19 associated Guillain-barre syndrome in the United States was reported.[3]


  • There is no established system for the classification of COVID-19 associated Guillain-Barre Syndrome .
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome its self may be classified into various subtypes: Demyelinating polyneuropathy (67.4%), acute axonal neuropathy (7.0%), Miller Fisher syndrome (7.0%), Bickerstaff brainstem encephalitis (7.0%), pharyngo-cervical-brachial variant (4.7%), and polyneuritis cranialis (4.7%).[4]
  • To view the classification of COVID-19, click here.



Differentiating COVID-19-associated Guillain-Barre syndrome from other Diseases

  • For further information about the differential diagnosis, click here.
  • To view the differential diagnosis of COVID-19, click here.

Epidemiology and Demographic

  • Five cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) in patients with COVID-19 has been reported in three hospitals in Northern Italy from February 28 through March 21, 2020.Four of these patients had a positive nasopharyngeal swab for SARS-CoV-2 at the onset of the neurologic syndrome, and one had a negative nasopharyngeal swab and negative bronchoalveolar lavage but subsequently he developed a positive serologic test for the virus [2].
  • The first official case of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) associated in patients with COVID-19 in the United States has been reported by neurologists from Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in June,2020.The patient was a 54-year-old man who was transferred to Allegheny General Hospital after developing ascending limb weakness and numbness that followed symptoms of a respiratory infection.The man reported that his wife was tested positive for COVID-19 infection and that his symptoms started soon after her illness.Later he also tested positive for COVID-19.[8]
  • Another case of Guillain–Barre syndrome with COVID-19 has been reported in Iran[9].
  • One case of Guillain–Barre syndrome with COVID-19 was reported in the UK.The patient was a 49-year-old man of South Asian descent with no medical history and reported a 3-week history of shortness of breath, headache and cough.He came to emergency department with worsening cough and distal lower limb paraesthesia during the previous week, resulting in difficulty mobilising.[10]
  • There was also one case of SARS-CoV-2 infection associated Guillain-Barre syndrome in a child.The patient was an eleven year old boy who presented with typical features of GBS.The diagnosis of the SARS-CoV-2 infection was confirmed by oropharyngeal swab on reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction assay.[11]
  • Familial occurrence of Guillain-Barré syndrome after COVID-19 infection has also been reported.2 members of a family affected by COVID-19 presented with ascending paresthesia with the final diagnosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome.The patient was a 38-year-old man who presented with a history of ascending paresthesia and bilateral facial droop for 5 days before admission and was treated with a diagnosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome, his 14-year-old daughter also presented with a history of progressive paresthesia and weakness. Similar to her father, the paraclinical evaluations were consistent with Guillain-Barre syndrome.[12]

Risk Factors


Natural History, Complications, and Prognosis

  • If left untreated, COVID-19 associated GBS may cause respiratory failure.
  • Among the five Italian patients of Covid-19 associated GBS two patients had poor outcome including ICU admission due to respiratory failure,they remained in intensive care after 4 weeks of treatment ;two patients had mild improvement and receiving physical therapy, and one was discharged walking independently.[13][2]
  • The only US patient with COVID-19 associated GBS briefly required mechanical ventilation and was successfully weaned after receiving a course of Intravenous Immunoglobulin.[3]


History and Symptoms:

Common symptoms

Less common symptoms

  • Less common symptoms of Guillain Barre syndrome include:
    • Dysautonomic features
    • Symptoms of papilledema such as
    • Headache
    • Visual disturbance[14]
    • Involuntary facial movement [15]
    • Hearing loss[16]
    • Difficulty speaking (vocal cord paralysis)
    • Mental status changes
Patient no. Onset of neurologic symptoms
Neurologic Signs & Symptoms [17]
7 days after fever, cough, ageusia Flaccid areflexic tetraplegia evolving to facial weakness, upper limb paresthesia(36 hr), and respiratory failure(day 6)
10 days after fever and pharyngitis Facial diplegia and generalized areflexia evolving to lower limb paresthesia with ataxia (Day 2)
10 days after fever and cough Flaccid tetraparesis and facial weakness evolving to areflexia (day 2) and respiratory failure( day 5)
5 days after cough and hyposmia Flaccid areflexic tetraparesis and ataxia (day 4)
7 days after cough,ageusia and anosmia facial weakness,flaccid areflexic paraplegia(day 2-3) and respiratory failure (day 4)

Laboratory Findings

Patient no.[2] CSF findings
Antiganglioside Antibodies
MRI Findings[2]

  • Day 2(first lumbar puncture):
  • Day 10(second lumbar puncture):
    • Protein level:101mg/dl;
    • White cell count 4per mm3;
    • Negative PCR assay for SARS-CoV-2
  • Day 3
    • Protein level :123mg/dl;
    • No cells were found;
    • PCR assay was negative for SARS-CoV-2
Not tested
  • Day 3
    • Protein level :193mg/dl;
    • No cells were found;
    • PCR assay for SARS-CoV-2 negative
  • Head: Normal
  • Spine: Caudal nerve roots enhanced
  • Day 5:
    • Protein level: Normal;
    • No cells;
    • PCR assay for SARS-CoV-2 was negative
Not tested
  • Head: Normal
  • Spine:Normal
  • Day 3
    • Protein level: 40mg/dl;
    • WBC count 3 per mm3;
    • PCR assay for SARS-CoV-2 was negative
  • Head: Not performed
  • Spine:Normal



Echocardiography or Ultrasound


Medical therapy


Primary Prevention

  • The disease itself is associated with COVID-19 infection and it is believed that preventing the spread of the infection itself is the most promising primary prevention strategy at the moment.
  • There have been rigorous efforts in order to develop a vaccine for novel coronavirus and several vaccines are in the later phases of trials.[19]
  • According to the CDC, the measures to prevent the spread the COVID-19 infection include:[20]
    • Frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a alcohol based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
    • Staying at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people who do not live with you.
    • Covering your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others and covering sneezes and coughs.
    • Cleaning and disinfecting.

Secondary Prevention


  1. Meng X, Deng Y, Dai Z, Meng Z (June 2020). "COVID-19 and anosmia: A review based on up-to-date knowledge". Am J Otolaryngol. 41 (5): 102581. doi:10.1016/j.amjoto.2020.102581. PMC 7265845 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 32563019 Check |pmid= value (help).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Toscano, Gianpaolo; Palmerini, Francesco; Ravaglia, Sabrina; Ruiz, Luigi; Invernizzi, Paolo; Cuzzoni, M. Giovanna; Franciotta, Diego; Baldanti, Fausto; Daturi, Rossana; Postorino, Paolo; Cavallini, Anna; Micieli, Giuseppe (2020). "Guillain–Barré Syndrome Associated with SARS-CoV-2". New England Journal of Medicine. 382 (26): 2574–2576. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2009191. ISSN 0028-4793.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "First Reported US Case of Guillain-Barré Linked to COVID-19".
  4. Lin JJ, Hsia SH, Wang HS, Lyu RK, Chou ML, Hung PC; et al. (2012). "Clinical variants of Guillain-Barré syndrome in children". Pediatr Neurol. 47 (2): 91–6. doi:10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2012.05.011. PMID 22759683.
  5. Gupta A, Paliwal VK, Garg RK (July 2020). "Is COVID-19-related Guillain-Barré syndrome different?". Brain Behav. Immun. 87: 177–178. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2020.05.051. PMC 7239011 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 32445789 Check |pmid= value (help).
  6. Huang C, Wang Y, Li X, Ren L, Zhao J, Hu Y, Zhang L, Fan G, Xu J, Gu X, Cheng Z, Yu T, Xia J, Wei Y, Wu W, Xie X, Yin W, Li H, Liu M, Xiao Y, Gao H, Guo L, Xie J, Wang G, Jiang R, Gao Z, Jin Q, Wang J, Cao B (February 2020). "Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China". Lancet. 395 (10223): 497–506. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30183-5. PMC 7159299 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 31986264.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Sedaghat Z, Karimi N (June 2020). "Guillain Barre syndrome associated with COVID-19 infection: A case report". J Clin Neurosci. 76: 233–235. doi:10.1016/j.jocn.2020.04.062. PMC 7158817 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 32312628 Check |pmid= value (help).
  8. "Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)-Associated Guillain–Barré Syndr... : Journal of Clinical Neuromuscular Disease".
  9. "Frontiers | Neurological Manifestations of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2): A Review | Neurology".
  10. Tiet, May Yung; AlShaikh, Nazar (2020). "Guillain-Barré syndrome associated with COVID-19 infection: a case from the UK". BMJ Case Reports. 13 (7): e236536. doi:10.1136/bcr-2020-236536. ISSN 1757-790X.
  11. Rasker, Johannes J; Emad, Yasser; Bamaga, Ahmed; Saad, Ahmed; Ragab, Yasser; Zakaria, Fairouz; Khalifa, Maher (2020). "Guillain-Barre Syndrome Associated with SARS-CoV-2 Detection and a COVID-19 Infection in a Child". Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society. doi:10.1093/jpids/piaa086. ISSN 2048-7193.
  12. Paybast, Sepideh; Gorji, Reza; Mavandadi, Shirin (2020). "Guillain-Barré Syndrome as a Neurological Complication of Novel COVID-19 Infection". The Neurologist. 25 (4): 101–103. doi:10.1097/NRL.0000000000000291. ISSN 2331-2637.
  13. "NEJM Journal Watch: Summaries of and commentary on original medical and scientific articles from key medical journals".
  14. Joynt, R. J. (1958). "Mechanism of Production of Papilledema in the Guillain-Barre Syndrome". Neurology. 8 (1): 8–8. doi:10.1212/WNL.8.1.8. ISSN 0028-3878.
  15. Mateer JE, Gutmann L, McComas CF (March 1983). "Myokymia in Guillain-Barré syndrome". Neurology. 33 (3): 374–6. doi:10.1212/wnl.33.3.374. PMID 6681885.
  16. Nelson KR, Gilmore RL, Massey A (August 1988). "Acoustic nerve conduction abnormalities in Guillain-Barré syndrome". Neurology. 38 (8): 1263–6. doi:10.1212/wnl.38.8.1263. PMID 3399076.
  17. "Guillain–Barré Syndrome Associated with SARS-CoV-2 | NEJM".
  18. van Doorn PA, Kuitwaard K, Walgaard C, van Koningsveld R, Ruts L, Jacobs BC (May 2010). "IVIG treatment and prognosis in Guillain-Barré syndrome". J. Clin. Immunol. 30 Suppl 1: S74–8. doi:10.1007/s10875-010-9407-4. PMC 2883091. PMID 20396937.
  19. "NIH clinical trial of investigational vaccine for COVID-19 begins | National Institutes of Health (NIH)".
  20. "How to Protect Yourself & Others | CDC".

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