Leah Durant | Vaccine Attorney - Vaccine Blog

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Guillain-Barre Syndrome in Children

Children can face various health risks, from diseases such as the flu and chickenpox to physical injuries such as scrapes, bruises and broken bones. We rely on vaccines and health care providers to help protect our children, and we don’t expect getting our children vaccinated or taking our children to the doctor to result in even more harm.

Unfortunately, sometimes the unexpected happens. For example, one risk associated with getting vaccinated against the flu – for children and adults – is the risk of contracting Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). While cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome linked to the flu shot are rare, the link is strong enough for GBS to be listed as an “on table” injury for the flu shot under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).

What Do Parents Need to Know About GBS in Children?

With this in mind, it is a good idea for parents to familiarize themselves with the symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Parents should also understand the treatment options and potential outcomes for children diagnosed with GBS. Finally, parents should ensure that they have a clear understanding of their legal rights under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, as filing a VICP claim can be essential for covering the financial and non-financial costs of a childhood GBS diagnosis. This article provides an overview of what parents need to know.

What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder. When a person contracts GBS, the person’s immune system begins to attack the healthy nerve cells in the body instead of (or in addition to) fighting off infections. While the precise cause of Guillain-Barre Syndrome remains unknown, the condition can be treated, and many individuals will make a full recovery with appropriate treatment.

However, GBS can also have chronic effects, and if left untreated, it can potentially be fatal. As a result, an accurate diagnosis and prompt medical intervention are critical.

Can Children Get Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Children of all ages can get Guillain-Barre Syndrome. While GBS is most common among men over the age of 50, the condition is not confined to a particular age group.

Overall, rates of diagnosis are extremely low among both children and adults. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that only 3,000 to 6,000 people in the United States (including children and adults) develop Guillain-Barre Syndrome each year.

What Causes GBS in Children?

Guillain-Barre syndrome has a number of potential causes in children. As the CDC explains, while GBS is not contagious, “outbreaks of germs associated with GBS, including Campylobacter, can lead to clusters of people with GBS.” The CDC also notes that “[a]s many as 40% of GBS cases in the United States are thought to be triggered by Campylobacter infection.”

Along with Campylobacter, a child’s Guillain-Barre Syndrome diagnosis could also result from a viral infection, physical injury or surgical procedure. In addition, Guillain-Barre Syndrome can also occur as a reaction to a vaccination.

What Vaccine Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome in Children?

In particular, medical science has established a link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and the annual flu shot. Each year, there are several recorded cases of GBS linked to the annual flu shot among both children and adults. The link between GBS and the flu shot has become even more well-established in recent years as more cases have been uncovered. However, as the CDC still states:

“The data on the association between GBS and seasonal flu vaccination are variable and inconsistent across flu seasons. If there is an increased risk of GBS following flu vaccination, it is small, on the order of one to two additional GBS cases per million doses of flu vaccine administered.”

Still, as noted above, Guillain-Barre Syndrome is an “on table” injury for the flu shot under the VICP. This means that when a child is diagnosed with GBS following a flu shot (with symptoms onsetting 3 to 42 days following vaccine administration), it is presumed that the child’s diagnosis is the result of his or her vaccination.

What Are the Symptoms of GBS in Children?

Guillain-Barre has several possible symptoms. As the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) explains, “[s]ymptoms can occur a bit differently in each child.” Many GBS symptoms are also similar to the symptoms of other vaccine-related injuries and illnesses. Combined, these factors often make diagnosis difficult, and doctors must carefully rule out potential diagnoses to accurately identify a child’s condition as GBS.

Children who contract Guillain-Barre Syndrome following a flu shot may exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Slow or light breathing

  • Loss of sensation in the fingers or toes

  • Pain in the fingers or toes (or both)

  • Pain that moves into the legs or arms (or both)

  • Muscle weakness in the legs or arms (or both)

  • Irritability

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Trouble walking

  • Vision impairments

Symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome will typically onset within a few days to a few weeks following vaccination against influenza. A child’s symptoms may become worse as the disorder develops. In general, the sooner a child receives a diagnosis and begins treatment, the greater the child’s chances will be of making a full recovery.

How Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome in Children Diagnosed?

Doctors may use several different modalities to diagnose a child with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Depending on a child’s specific symptoms and the current progression of his or her condition, one or more diagnostic tests may be necessary. The tests doctors use to diagnose children with GBS include:

  • Physical exams

  • Blood and urine tests

  • Spinal taps (lumbar punctures)

  • Electromyograms (EMG)

  • Pulmonary function test

How is Guillain-Barre Syndrome in Children Treated?

Just as the cause of GBS remains unknown, there is also currently no known cure. As a result, treatment focuses on managing a child’s symptoms—either until the condition goes away or on a long-term basis if needed. As URMC explains, “Certain treatments can speed up recovery. But early detection is needed. A child with GBS will often need to be in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) and closely watched by a healthcare team.”

As URMC also notes, “[t]he goal of treatment is to prevent breathing problems[,] ease symptoms . . [and] control pain and other problems.” Currently, the primary forms of treatment for Guillain-Barre Syndrome in children are:

  • Medications – Doctors will commonly prescribe pain medicines to children who have been diagnosed with GBS. The drug Eculizumab has also shown promise as a form of treatment for GBS and is currently undergoing clinical trials.

  • Immunoglobulin therapy – Immunoglobulin therapy involves using newly-introduced antibodies to help boost the strength of a child’s immune system and protect against the effects of GBS.

  • Plasmapheresis – Plasmapheresis involves removing plasma from the blood and replacing it with other fluids in order to remove harmful antibodies and mitigate the symptoms of GBS.

What is the Long-Term Prognosis for a Child Diagnosed with GBS?

According to URMC, “[m]ost children diagnosed with GBS will recover fully with no complications.” However, recovery can take as long as one to two years. Therefore, it is important to carefully manage a child’s symptoms throughout the recovery process, as this will help mitigate the risk of long-term complications due to limited mobility, breathing complications and living with chronic pain.

In some cases, Guillain-Barre Syndrome can cause paralysis of the muscles in the face and chest, including the muscles used to swallow. GBS can also cause paralysis of the legs. While this paralysis will be temporary in many cases, permanent paralysis is a possibility, and paralysis of the muscles in the face and chest has the potential to cause choking, serious breathing problems and death. Fortunately, these outcomes can generally be avoided with proper medical care.

What Can Parents Do If Their Child Has Been Diagnosed with GBS from a Flu Shot?

It is important for parents who have concerns about childhood Guillain-Barre Syndrome to see a doctor as soon as possible. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are the best tools for reducing long-term risk and promoting a speedy recovery. In cases involving childhood GBS linked to the flu shot, parents should also consult with a vaccine attorney about their legal rights under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is a federal program that pays financial compensation to parents of children diagnosed with vaccine-related injuries and illnesses. This includes Guillain-Barre Syndrome linked to the annual flu shot. Specifically, the VICP pays monetary compensation for:

  • Medical bills

  • Certain other out-of-pocket costs

  • Loss of earnings

  • Pain and suffering

Over time, the costs of a childhood GBS diagnosis can be substantial. The VICP has paid more than $4 billion to vaccine recipients and families since 1988, and it pays claimants’ legal fees separately from their awards of financial compensation.

Does Your Family Have a VICP Claim for Childhood Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

If you would like to know more about filing a VICP claim for childhood Guillain-Barre Syndrome linked to the annual flu shot, we encourage you to contact us for a complimentary consultation. To speak with national vaccine attorney Leah V. Durant in confidence, please call 202-800-1711 or get in touch online today.


Leah Durant Bio

Experienced litigation attorney Leah Durant focuses on representing clients in complex vaccine litigation matters. Leah Durant is the owner and principal attorney of the Law Offices of Leah V. Durant, PLLC, a litigation firm based in Washington, DC. Leah Durant and her staff represent clients and their families who suffer from vaccine-related injuries, adverse vaccine reactions and vaccine-related deaths. The Law Offices of Leah V. Durant, PLLC is dedicated to assisting individuals in recovering the highest level of compensation as quickly and efficiently as possible. To learn more, contact vaccine attorney Leah Durant today.


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