People with Guillain-Barré syndrome develop the rapid onset of muscle weakness and then paralysis. They may also have numbness and a loss of reflexes.
Unlike some other conditions that cause weakness and paralysis, GBS is a symmetrical, ascending paralysis – it starts in your toes and fingers and moves up your legs and arms.
What Causes Guillain-Barré Syndrome?
GBS is an autoimmune disorder and often starts after a viral or bacterial infection, especially one that causes diarrhea or a respiratory illness.
One of the biggest risk factors is a previous Campylobacter jejuni infection, that is often linked to drinking raw milk, eating undercooked food, drinking untreated water, or from contact with the pet feces.
In less half of cases, no specific cause is found.
Fortunately, although progress can be slow, many people with GBS recover.
Can Vaccines Cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome?
Guillain-Barré syndrome is actually a table injury for the seasonal flu vaccine.
“On very rare occasions, they may develop GBS in the days or weeks after getting a vaccination.”
CDC on Guillain-Barré syndrome and Flu Vaccine
It is not common though.
For example, the increased risk of GBS after getting a flu vaccine is thought to be on the order of about one in a million – in adults.
Flu vaccines have not been shown to cause GBS in children.
“The risk of GBS is 4–7 times higher after influenza infection than after influenza vaccine. The risk of getting GBS after influenza vaccine is rare enough that it cannot be accurately measured, but a risk as high as one case of GBS per 1 million doses of flu vaccine cannot be reliably excluded.”
Poland et al on Influenza vaccine, Guillain–Barré syndrome, and chasing zero
It is also important to keep in mind that you are far more likely to get GBS after a natural flu infection than after the vaccine, plus the flu vaccine has many other benefits.
What about other vaccines?
“In this large retrospective study, we did not find evidence of an increased risk of GBS following vaccinations of any kind, including influenza vaccination.”
Baxter et al on Lack of association of Guillain-Barré syndrome with vaccinations
No other vaccines that are currently being used routinely have been associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome.
In fact, many studies do not even find an association between GBS and the flu vaccine.
Nor has rapid cycle analysis, which allows near-real time surveillance of possible adverse events, found any statistically significant increased risks from the COVID-19 vaccines.
What to Know About Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Vaccines
Guillain-Barré Syndrome may be associated with the flu vaccine in adults in about 1 in a million cases, but does not occur with any other vaccines, and occurs far more commonly after a natural flu infection.
More on Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Vaccines
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- Guillain-Barré Syndrome Fact Sheet
- CDC – Guillain-Barre Syndrome
- WHO – Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)
- CDC – Guillain-Barré syndrome and Flu Vaccine
- Do Vaccines Cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome?
- Study – Lack of association of Guillain-Barré syndrome with vaccinations.
- Review – Reflections on the 1976 Swine Flu Vaccination Program
- Editorial Commentary: Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Vaccinations
- Editorial – Influenza vaccine, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and chasing zero.
- CDC – Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Menactra Meningococcal Vaccine
- CDC – Preliminary Results: Surveillance for Guillain-Barré Syndrome After Receipt of Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 Monovalent Vaccine — United States, 2009–2010
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- Campylobacter Outbreaks
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- Epidemiological and cohort study finds no association between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Characterizing the incidence of adverse events of special interest for COVID-19 vaccines across eight countries: a multinational network cohort study