Transcript: Poultry & Paralysis
Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.
There is one neurological condition definitively caused by an infectious agent in poultry: Guillain-Barré syndrome. Also known as acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, which is as bad as it sounds, it’s a brutally rapid, life-threatening autoimmune attack on your nervous system. It’s like MS in fast forward, where instead of taking years, you can end up paralyzed, on a ventilator, in a matter of days. Why would our immune systems do such a thing?
It didn’t mean to; it had the best of intentions. There is a neuropathic strain of a fecal bacteria, called Campylobacter, contaminating the U.S. chicken supply. If you get exposed and infected, 999 times out of 1,000, you just get sick; food poisoning. No problem, your immune system wipes out the invaders, and in a couple days, you’re as good as new. But in 1 in 1,000 cases, our immune system makes an honest mistake.
This is what your nerve cells look like on the outside, on a molecular level. This is what Campylobacter looks like on the outside. Your immune system detects the bacteria, rides in guns a-blazin’, take no prisoners. And your nerves end up a victim of friendly fire.
Your first symptom is what’s called ascending paralysis. Weakness starts in the hands and feet, and works its way up. In many cases it happens within hours. Within days you can’t walk, then you can’t swallow, then you can’t breathe. In which case you’re dead—unless you can get to an ICU with a mechanical ventilator, in which case, after about two weeks, something amazing happens.
Your immune system steps back from the fight, surveys the damage, and says, uh oh. And it stops, and you come back to life. Now sometimes, it’s too late, and you end up with severe lifelong disability. Or you don’t even make it that far—it kills people even in the best ICUs in the world.
The bottom line is that now that polio is largely a thing of the past, the most common cause of acute paralysis in the United States is, ultimately, chicken consumption.
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