By Alice McQuillan
A nurse was stricken with a rare nerve disorder that can cause paralysis two weeks after receiving a seasonal flu shot, the New York State Health Department confirmed Wednesday.
The unidentified female nurse has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome and has been hospitalized at North Shore University Hospital on Long Island since September 14th, the department said.
Michelle Pinto, a spokeswoman for the North Shore-LIJ Heath System, said “we do have a patient at North Shore University Hospital with Guillain Barre syndrome. The cause of the Guillain Barre is inconclusive.”
This nurse, who lives in New York City and does not work at North Shore, is “improving and responding to treatment” said Claudia Hutton, public affairs director for the State Department of Health.
Hutton said doctors have not proven a link between the vaccine the nurse received on August 31st and her illness, noting that she had traveled to India before getting the seasonal flu shot.
“At this point there is nothing in the medical record to indicate that the Syndrome was caused by her seasonal flu vaccine,” said Hutton.
In the past, Guillain-Barre Syndrome has been associated with a particular swine flu vaccine given in 1976 but “since then, flu vaccines have not been clearly linked to GBS,” according to information about this year’s vaccine on the Department of Health’s website.
However, concerns about side effects from the vaccine remain, prompting a lawsuit by nurses in New York state objecting to this year’s health department order making the season and swine flu shots mandatory for all public health workers.
The causes of Guillain-Barre, which affects only about one person in 100,000, are unknown. A rapidly moving disorder, it typically attacks the nerve reflexes in the legs and the respiratory system, sometimes triggering complete paralysis.
New York City health officials said they “participated in a joint investigation and forwarded the results to the Centers for Disease Control” but declined to detail those findings.
According to the national institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “usually Guillain-Barré occurs a few days or weeks after the patient has had symptoms of a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection. Occasionally, surgery or vaccinations will trigger the syndrome.”
An average of 200 to 300 people a year contract the syndrome in New York state and most recover, said the Department of Health.