Dear Lebanon, There’s No Such Thing As A “Guillain-Barre” Virus

When you think the Lebanese press circle couldn’t sink lower, they surprise you. Be it with their super horrible reporting which happens often, to them jumping on anything they’d deem as a scoop to lately causing the entire Lebanese population to panic over something called “Guillain-Barre” virus that’s ravaging the country.

I have no idea who told them about that so-called virus, but this is bullshit.

I first saw the story on MTV. And like the good media that they are, everyone else immediately jumped on the story because clearly we have nothing else to worry about in Lebanon so let’s add a horrible-looking virus flying in the air among us that can kill us at any moment.

Behold the credibility:

It’s the apocalypse I tell you, MTV-style.

In their defense, MTV did ask a doctor about it. And he gave them a more or less correct answer of what Guillan-Barre actually is. But I suppose MTV decided that the explanation was too non-dramatic and not-attention grabbing, so they figured they’d make up an entirely new virus strain and get Lebanese across the country to panic.

Let’s get a few things in order:

There’s no such thing as a “Guillain-Barre” virus, but there is something called a “Guillain-Barre” syndrome. That is to say there is no virus floating in the Lebanese air that will paralyze you, but there is a very well-documented syndrome called “Guillain-Barre” that is quite rare, albeit present, that affects the nerves and whose effect, when diagnosed and promptly treated, is almost entirely reversible.

This is what Guillain-Barre syndrome is:

Following an infection by a virus or a bacteria, some people develop antibodies that end up attacking their own nerves. The most common pathogen isolated in patients who have developed Guillain-Barre is a bacteria called “Campylobacter Jejuni” (don’t try to pronounce it).

As such, this syndrome is autoimmune (your own body attacking itself) and inflammatory (there’s an inflammation taking place) that targets myelin in your peripheral nervous system. Myelin is a form of insulation that covers nerve endings leading to much-faster propagation of messages. Damaging myelin leads to very slow nerve conduction, if not minimal conduction altogether.

This manifests in tingling in a person’s feet at first that propagates upwards to their legs and thighs, then hands and arms. Ultimately, a person would also stop being able to move their limbs altogether. The disease is progressive and ascending.

The main life threat of Guillain-Barre comes in it affecting a person’s respiratory muscles, that is to say since it ends up paralyzing muscles across the body, it might also paralyze the muscles that you need to breathe which causes a person to end up in respiratory failure. Don’t freak out, however, because this is a sign of a late progression of the disease and most people do not reach this stage and are managed well before it.

There’s no way to know if a person will develop Guillain-Barre or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re Lebanese, Sudanese or Vietnamese: the processes that cause a person to end up with the syndrome are under study. Being infected with a bacteria or a virus does not mean you will end up with this syndrome. It’s an extremely rare disease. However, it is manageable.

Since Guillain-Barre syndrome involves your own body attacking itself, treatment essentially alters this process of attack by blocking it or decreasing it. I have no idea about the cost of treatment, but it works well at stopping the progression of the disease and bringing back any person towards a full recovery.

Lebanese media want you to think Guillain-Barre is a death sentence. It’s a disease with a fancy name that most people know absolutely nothing about, so why not turn it into yet another Lebanese panic-du-jour to make people rush to their doctors and wonder if their seasonal allergies come spring time will get them paralyzed in a few weeks?

I have seen Guillain-Barre often. The patients I have seen were all okay. A neighbor and family friend was so unlucky she had Guillain-Barre twice. She made a full recovery both times and is now a fully functional woman in her thirties with absolutely no care in the world.

My advice is as follows: do not trust MTV, LBC, OTV, etc., when it comes to medical information. In the age of the internet, it is your duty first and foremost to make sure that what they’re saying is true or not. As a rule of thumb, they’re full of it most of the time. Deal with them as such.

Shame on MTV and whichever media outlet jumped on the story without fact-checking it. Google is your friend. Or, you know, a 3rd year medical student would’ve told you that you’re wrong.

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