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Guillain-Barré syndrome mimicking botulism in early disease course
  1. Robert Durcan1,2,
  2. Olwen Murphy1,2,3,
  3. Valerie Reid1,
  4. Tim Lynch1,2
  1. 1 Department of Neurology, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  2. 2 Dublin Neurological Institute, Dublin, Ireland
  3. 3 Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert Durcan, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin 7, Ireland; robertdurcan{at}


A 42-year-old man, returning to Europe after a 2-month stay in China, reported cough and runny nose. Five days later, he developed neck discomfort and rapidly evolving weakness, spreading from his arms to the facial, bulbar and neck muscles, and then the legs. He developed dysphagia and breathlessness, and was intubated in the emergency department. Cerebrospinal fluid showed mildly elevated protein. On day 2 he had fixed dilated pupils, with absent oculocephalic reflexes, and a flaccid upper limb paralysis. MR scans of the brain and spinal cord were normal. The early features of descending weakness, bulbar involvement and fixed dilated pupils made it difficult to distinguish between Guillain-Barré syndrome and botulism, and early investigations were inconclusive. We initially gave both botulinum antitoxin and intravenous immunoglobulin, but initially delayed plasma exchange as this would have removed the botulinum antitoxin. Diagnostic testing for botulism has low sensitivity, so we urge pre-emptive treatment if it is clinically suspected.

  • guillain-barre syndrome
  • botulinum toxin
  • neuropathy

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  • Contributors RD: Review of the literature, drafting of the manuscript. OM: Critical review of the manuscript. VR: Review of nerve conduction studies. TL: Expert critical analysis of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed by Ben Wakerley, Gloucester, UK, and Simon Rinaldi, London, UK.

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