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Officials Investigating Cross Border Disease Outbreak

Border Disease
Border Disease

Mexican and American health officials are trying to find the origins of an infection that’s now sickened 22 people on both sides of the U.S. Mexico border in the states of Arizona-Sonora. In the more severe cases, officials believe it’s left some people paralyzed.

It’s called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). It’s an infection that is not contagious and often begins from a more common intestinal infection. It’s considered rare: Only about 1 in every 100,000 people get it.

Public health officials are worried that, since May, they’ve now had nine cases in Yuma County and another 13 cases across the border in San Luis Río Colorado. Normally, this area only sees three or four cases a year.


Officials think the syndrome starts with Campylobacter. That’s a common bacteria found in foods. Usually, there’s no effect. Sometimes it will trigger diarrhea. Other times it heightens the immune system and that triggers the Guillain-Barre that targets the nervous system.

Shoana Anderson oversees infectious diseases for Arizona.

“It causes their immune system to go into over-drive and start to attack their nerves," she said.

Anderson said six people have been diagnosed with paralysis, all in San Luis Río Colorado. It’s usually only temporary and partial.

Now, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Arizona Department of Health Services and Sonora health officials are working together to find the cause.


The infections were first found in May.

Laura Oxley is a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“We didn’t do a lot with the public because we didn’t know what it was and GBS is not contagious," she said.

The CDC estimates about 40 percent of GBS cases in the U.S. are preceded by the campylobacter infection.

Properly handling food and washing hands is the safest way to avoid it.