It is not always a common cold


The first signs of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) include a flu, headache, backache, difficulty breathing and muscle weakness.

Thursday November 28 2019

When Nandi Hills resident, Mathias Too, began feeling ill, he presumed it was cold or flu.“ I thought it was just a ‘homa’[cold]. Then on the second day, my muscles were so weak I could not even hold my phone,” said Mr Too.

At the first medical check-up, he was diagnosed with high blood pressure and given painkillers. Two days later, his condition worsened and he developed breathing complications. He was later diagnosed with Guillain — Barré syndrome (GBS), a neurological disorder wherein the body’s immune system wrongly attacks part of its nervous system.

GBS begins with a bacterial or viral infection, i.e., cold, flu, diarrhoea, upper respiratory tract infections or a urinary infection. While recovering, antibodies produced to fight the infection instead fight the nervous system. Paralysis sets in within one or two days, and in extreme cases, hours. It begins in the legs, moving upwards. As it spreads to the hands and heart, breathing complications begin.

“I could not breath. I was referred to three hospitals in a day. From Eldoret hospital to Mediheal, then Top Hill and finally Oak Tree Hospital where my condition was contained … I underwent three sessions of plasma exchange at Oak Tree. I can now bath and walk on my own.”

Another survivor Andrew Mitei revealed that his family thought he had been bewitched when he developed GBS. They convinced him to abandon his work because they feared he had been cursed by someone there.


Dr Mathew Koech of Oak Tree Hospital says GBS typically runs its course in two months, and recovery can occur without medical intervention. However, breathing complications require treatment and if one’s muscles waste away, they become prone to more infections. Dr Koech believes the public needs to be better informed on GBS. Many relate GBS with a death sentence, which is not true.

According to Dr Koech, there are two ways to treat the condition. Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), which has been in use since 1952.

Immunoglobulins, or antibodies, are glycoprotein molecules produced by plasma cells that act as a critical part of the immune response. A newer method, plasmapheresis, involves ridding the attacking plasma bond antibodies and replacing it with different plasma.

“The IVIG treatment has some disadvantages as compared to plasmapheresis,” Dr Koech said. “First its effectiveness has not been confirmed. It is a hit or miss. It is also more expensive. It takes quite some time before one responds. In some situations, a GBS patient might stay in the ICU up to six months after IVIG, as compared to plasmapheresis where we discharge after two weeks.” There are 500-1000 cases of GBS in Kenya annually and once treated it rarely reoccurs.