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Officials believe contaminated food played a role in the Guillain-Barré outbreak

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Officials believe contaminated food played a role in the Guillain-Barré outbreak

Consumption of poorly prepared food has been identified as a factor in the fatal Guillain-Barré outbreak in Guatemala.

The findings come from the results of case control studies announced by the Ministry of Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS) and the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (IGSS).

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare condition in which the body’s immune system damages the nerves. The cause is not yet completely clear, but the syndrome often follows an infection with a virus or bacteria. Infection with Campylobacter jejuni, which causes gastroenteritis including symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, is one of the most common risk factors for GBS.

A total of 87 cases were reported in the outbreak, five of which died. 40 percent of the patients were registered in Cuyotenango and Samayac, in the Suchitepéquez region, and 80 percent were between 15 and 64 years old.

The first cases were discovered in November 2023. ​​As more than 40 days have passed since the last notification, the red alert has been reduced to a yellow epidemiological alert, which means that prevention measures and surveillance of suspected cases must continue.

The presence of Campylobacter was confirmed in some of the stool samples taken, indicating that the bacteria was transmitted through food.

Dr. Óscar Cordón said that investigations consisted of interviews and checks through laboratory tests of patients and undiagnosed people.

“History of gastrointestinal diseases, fever and consumption of poorly prepared food were the factors associated with the risk of the syndrome in Suchitepéquez,” he said.

Cordón added that it is important to continue the surveillance of the syndrome, maintain the training of health personnel in the diagnosis and proper management of GBS, promote good food management practices at the community level and strengthen epidemiological surveillance of acute diarrheal diseases and Campylobacter.

WHO involvement
Analyzes of water and food samples in several municipalities led to closures of food businesses and strengthening of protection measures among the population.

Evaluations are underway to better understand the role of the bacteria in the risk of developing Guillain-Barré syndrome.

“The recommendation to residents is to continue with preventive measures such as constant hand washing with soap and water, hygienic measures in food preparation, consuming boiled or chlorinated water and avoiding mixing cooked and raw foods ,” officials said.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO), recently participated in a press conference led by MSPAS where information about GBS was shared.

Gerardo Alfaro, PAHO/WHO Representative in Guatemala, highlighted several measures, including a workshop given by professionals from the National Institute of Public Health of Peru to strengthen the capabilities of molecular diagnosis and genomic sequencing of Campylobacter.

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