New studies show that a coronavirus infection could lead to neurological complications.
COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory illness, meaning that the coronavirus attacks human lungs and endangers breathing functions. This is already common knowledge, but according to a new study out of University College London, breathing problems now could give way to neurological problems later.
In a study of COVID-19 patients, 43 cases were noted of varying degrees of brain damage. This includes conditions like temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, inflammation, psychosis and delirium. In a more worrying, specific example, nine COVID-19 patients with brain inflammation were also diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or ADE, a viral infection more commonly seen in children that could lead to lasting damage. UCL doctors said that they usually get only a single case of ADE a month, but since the pandemic started in earnest, they’ve been seeing at least one a week.
“Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause,” said Ross Paterson, one of the study’s co-authors. “Doctors need to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes.”
Doctors are now stressing the importance of more detailed studies into the matter. With worldwide COVID-19 cases in the millions, the danger of widespread neurological damage cannot be overlooked. “My worry is that we have millions of people with COVID-19 now. And if in a year’s time we have 10 million recovered people, and those people have cognitive deficits … then that’s going to affect their ability to work and their ability to go about activities of daily living,” Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at Western University in Canada, told Reuters.
Owen is currently running a voluntary study on COVID-19 patients on a special website. Volunteers are asked to complete a series of tests to see if their cognitive abilities have been impaired at all since contracting the disease. “This disease is affecting an enormous number of people,” Owen said. “That’s why it’s so important to collect this information now.”