Health & Medicine

What it's like to get the rare, WWI-era autoimmune disorder affecting Zika patients

andyN.jpg

Andy North contracted a rare syndrome that once plagued WWI vets. 

Credit:

Andy North

Reporter Andy North went to work one day and didn't feel right.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Illustration by Andy North

Illustration by Andy North

Credit:

Andy North

Within a week, North struggled to even walk. "It was unlike anything I had ever experience before," he says.

 

Illustration by Andy North.

Illustration by Andy North.

 

 

Credit:

Andy North

He had contracted the rare autoimmune disorder known as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). It once plagued WWI soldiers — in fact, Guillain-Barré syndrome is named after the two French doctors, George Guillain and Jean Alexandre Barré, who diagnosed the soldiers with the disorder.

Lucky for North, doctors at his hospital knew about it.

"They suspected it and they did the tests that you need to do in order to confirm it, a test of your spinal fluid," he says. "And then I was taken to an emergency care facility." 

Illustration by Andy North.

Illustration by Andy North. 

Credit:

Andy North. 

The disorder hits some people harder than others. Doctors still aren't sure why.

"It's still a mystery illness," North says.

Illustration by Andy North.
Credit:

Andy North

GBS has returned to the headlines with its suspected link to Zika. And North is worried that more people will experience what he did. GBS is on the rise in Brazil and other South American countries. And that can stress the hospitals there.

"It can put people in hospital for a very long period of time," he says. "So we're talking about an increased burden on health services around the world."

North wrote a piece about GBS for Narratively. You can read it in full here.