What is transverse myelitis, the AstraZeneca vaccine volunteer disease?

The Swedish-British pharmaceutical company has announced the suspension of the tests of its vaccines in volunteers because one of them has suffered this neurological disorder, which causes inflammation of the spinal cord

The Swedish-British pharmaceutical AstraZeneca has announced the suspension of the tests of its vaccine, one of the most advanced that was already in phase 3, which was being developed jointly with the Jenner Institute of the University of Oxford, against the virus, because one of the volunteers who has been vaccinated has suffered from transverse myelitis.

It is a neurological disorder that causes inflammation of the spinal cord. This condition damages the myelin, the insulating material that covers the fibers of nerve cells. This injury disrupts the nervous system by disrupting communication between the nerves in the spinal cord with the rest of the body.

This damage to the nervous system can cause the spinal cord to fail for hours or even weeks. Symptoms range from pain in the lower back, muscle weakness, sensory problems in the toes or the feet themselves, to more serious ones such as paralysis, urinary retention, or loss of bowel control.

It is a very rare disorder and in many cases, the cause is unknown. Even so, certain conditions could be the cause of transverse myelitis, such as viral infections or rare immune reactions.

In relation to the latter, although scientists do not know with certainty what factors cause this disease, everything seems to indicate that stimulation of the immune system in response to an infection could generate an autoimmune reaction, responsible for myelitis. that some patients with this pathology also suffer from other autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus or Sjogren’s syndrome, which seems to support this theory.

Autoimmune diseases are characterized by the “confusion” of the immune system, which instead of protecting the body against external agents such as viruses or bacteria, becomes the aggressor, attacking and destroying healthy organs and body tissues.

Transverse myelitis can also develop as a severe reaction to syphilis, measles, Lyme disease, and some vaccinations, including chickenpox, whooping cough, and rabies.

This inflammation of the spinal cord can occur in both adults and children, without distinction of sex and race. Studies indicate, however, that in the ages between 10 and 19 years, and between 30 and 39 years, the incidence rate of this pathology is somewhat higher.

About a third of those affected will fully recover from transverse myelitis, without any sequelae. Another third, on the other hand, will partially recover from the pathology, leaving symptoms such as urinary incontinence or sensory failure.

Finally, the other third of the patients will not show any improvement and can therefore remain in bed or in a wheelchair. The disease in these patients will be completely disabling, forcing them to depend on third parties for the basic functions of daily life.

Like other spinal cord disorders, there is no effective cure for people with transverse myelitis. Current treatments are able to reduce inflammation, as well as alleviate and control symptoms. Of course, the treatment to follow will depend on each case and the patient’s prognosis.

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