Peru declares alert over suspected Guillain-Barre outbreak

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru has declared a national epidemiological alert to contain what appears to be an outbreak of the rare Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is associated with the Zika virus, the country’s health ministry said on Wednesday.

Health authorities suspect more than 19 cases of the syndrome in Peru and have warned hospitals to watch for symptoms in other people, the ministry said in a statement. It added that the suspected cases will be confirmed in the coming days.

Guillain-Barre, in which the immune system attacks part of the nervous system, causes gradual weakness in the legs, arms and upper body and sometimes leads to total paralysis.

Four of the patients who are suspected to have the syndrome in Peru need respirators to support their breathing, the ministry said.

Researchers have found a close association between an increased number of mosquito-born Zika infections and increases in Guillain-Barre.

There were some 500 confirmed cases and 5,269 suspected cases of Zika in Peru last year, up from a combined total of 1,651 suspected and confirmed cases in 2016, according to health ministry data.

The health ministry said between 3 percent and 5 percent of Guillain-Barre cases are fatal.

Reporting by Maria Cervantes; Writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Paul Simao