By VUVU VENA and MICHELLE SOLOMON
AT LEAST two children in East London have died of a rare disorder in recent weeks.
The Daily Dispatch has learnt of a further five people in the city diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome [GBS]. The exact cause of the condition is unknown but it attacks the nervous system and if not treated promptly, can result in death.
Symptoms include muscle weakness, loss of reflexes and numbness in arms, legs, face and other parts of the body.
It can cause paralysis and death, although most people diagnosed with it survive if it is detected early enough.
Dr Kim Harper, principal pediatrician at Frere Hospital, said GBS affected one person in 100 000.
The two children who died were both girls and both under 12. They came into the hospital’s ICU in the past three weeks, already completely paralysed.
Harper said the cases were unusually severe and stressed that most children and adults survived GBS.
Asked why it seemed as though more cases were popping up in the city, Harper said although it was not clear what caused it, GBS often followed a bacterial infection such as diarrhoea or a viral one such as flu. While the body worked to fight off the infection, “by mistake” it attacked the nerve sheaths until they couldn’t conduct electricity very well and one started feeling weak.
He said if there was an increase in GBS in the city, there may have been a particular bacterial infection or flu that people had contracted that had led to GBS. However, he stressed that since GBS was a non-communicable disease, no one was at risk of catching it.
Harper said GBS always occurred symmetrically in both sides of the body and started with the feet, then hands, then progressed towards the trunk of the body, where it would start affecting nerves vital for breathing, heart beat and blood pressure, at which stage patients would need a ventilator. Bongani Nzozo, from Mdantsane, was almost completely paralysed when he was diagnosed with GBS. He lost feeling and the ability to move his limbs over the course of a weekend.
Nzozo was admitted to Life St Dominic’s hospital on June 10 and spent more than two weeks in ICU where staff worked to halt the progression of the disease.
“It started on a Friday with a tingling in my fingers and toes, and this feeling slowly moved up my arms and legs,” he said. Nzozo described the feeling of the spreading paralysis as “the feeling you get when you step on solid ground after running on a treadmill for a long time”.
The 23-year-old said that within three days he couldn’t get out of bed. “I couldn’t twitch a finger.”
Nzozo said the treatment he received in ICU reversed some of the paralysis, but there was nerve damage.
He was admitted to Life Rehabilitation on July 3, where he has slowly regained some strength in his limbs and muscles.
When Nzozo spoke to the Dispatch, he was able to walk, lift his arms and speak, but not as well as before.
He said he was still working to strengthen his facial muscles and use his lips in his speech.
“Every day there’s an improvement,” he said.
Harper said although nerves were damaged, over time they would recover as the body repaired itself.
Originally published in the Daily Dispatch.
- What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) (gbarresyndromekenya.wordpress.com)