PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – In the United States, the first documented case related to the coronavirus was in a Pittsburgh hospital , a nerve problem called Guillain-Barré syndrome.
It usually occurs after a viral illness, and the immune system’s response attacks the nerves.
“This results in progressive weakness, loss of sensation and, in some cases, progresses to the point where patients have trouble breathing,” says Dr. Sandeep Rana, a neurologist specializing in neuromuscular disorders at the Allegheny Health Network.
The patient was a 54-year-old contractor who became ill just after his wife was diagnosed with coronavirus.
“I was having a hard time breathing, I had a fever,” says Dr. Rana.
He had the pneumonia infection and something else.
“While he was being treated for his COVID, (the doctors) noticed that his limbs were weakening,” says Dr. Rana. “The patient had very characteristic features of Guillain-Barré syndrome.”
He was weak. When the doctors struck with a reflex hammer, there was no response. Cerebrospinal fluid and nerve tests were abnormal and showed that he had Guillain-Barré syndrome. It ended up in a breathing machine.
“He had the double problem of COVID infecting his lungs and Guillain-Barré weakness,” says Dr. Rana.
The doctors gave him the standard therapy for this: intravenous antibodies called IVIG.
He got off the fan, started rehabilitation, and gradually got better.
Guillain-Barre usually occurs several weeks after illness.
“This is something unique about COVID-19 that Guillain-Barre in COVID-19 tends to happen fairly quickly,” said Dr. Rana.
In fact, the same pattern occurred in a handful of patients in China, Italy, and France.
So for the first American case to be documented in Pittsburgh, which has not been harshly affected, doctors have some concerns.
“We feel like maybe they are being underdiagnosed. (The cases) are out there, ”said Dr. Rana.