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Bacteria in undercooked chicken causes Guillain-Barré syndrome

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system. The causes are thought to be varied, with the underlying mechanism involving an autoimmune disorder.

One of the causes appears to be the common food pathogen Campylobacter jejuni. This bacterium is helical in shape, microaerophilic and non-fermenting. At a high concentration in the gut, the organism can induce diarrhea by toxin release. The organism is associated with chicken, among other sources, and it presents a risk to consumers should the chicken be served undercooked.

For the bacterium to present a risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome the individual must have a certain genetic makeup. This is based on a preclinical model, looking at different individuals and risk factors. Importantly, those suffering with Guillain-Barre syndrome can initially experience vomiting and diarrhea, which are symptoms also associated with food poisoning.

An additional concern is with growing resistance, according to the lead researcher Professor Linda Mansfield. In a research note she states: “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.”

This important because the use of antibiotics to treat Campylobacter infection can make Guillain-Barre Syndrome worse. This is due to the immune response to the invasive pathogen, as a result of immune antibodies that can mistakenly attack a patient’s own organs and tissues.

The more positive news is that the bacterial connection may lead to a new treatment for certain cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, designed to address the paralysis.

As well as Campylobacter there may also be an association between the neuromuscular disease and Zika virus. This signifies a further research direction in relation to the illness. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), several countries that have experienced Zika outbreaks recently have reported increases in people who have Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The research has been published in the Journal of Autoimmunity, in a paper titled “Guillain Barré Syndrome is induced in Non-Obese Diabetic (NOD) mice following Campylobacter jejuni infection and is exacerbated by antibiotics.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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