Potential long-term neurological damage investigated in Covid patients

Can Covid-19 cause brain damage? Scientists to investigate whether coronavirus patients with neurological symptoms are affected long-term

  • Swedish researchers took cerebrospinal fluid samples from 19 patients 
  • These patients had neurological symptoms ranging from confusion to coma 
  • Ongoing research will investigate the long-term implications of these cases  

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 which causes Covid-19 is known to infect the brain and affect the body’s network of neurons.

Now scientists are investigating the long-term impact of these symptoms, to see if the virus causes enduring neurological damage. 

Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden are following the progress of 19 individuals who caught the virus last year and developed neurological symptoms. 

Disease severity in the cohort varied from mild to critical and all the participants recovered, with symptoms ranging from delirium to a coma. 

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Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden are following the progress of 19 individuals who caught the virus and developed neurological symptoms (stock) 

Eight people in the study (42 per cent) had ‘altered mental status’ and eight also had headaches as a result of their Covid-19. 

Samples of cerebrospinal fluid — which protects the brain and spinal cord as well as providing nutrients — were taken from all patients who were admitted to the University Hospital in Uppsala. 

The study started in April 2020 and is ongoing, with initial results recently published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Neurology.

Samples of the brain fluid showed elevated levels of proteins which are associated with impaired neurological function.  

Neurofilament light (NfL) is a key biomarker for disease, and higher-than-normal levels of it were seen in two-thirds of patients (63 per cent). 

‘Increased NfL correlated with disease severity, time in intensive care and level of consciousness,’ the researchers write in their study. 

‘NfL in cerebrospinal fluid was higher in patients with central neurological symptoms.’

The cognitive and neurological implications of Covid-19 infection remain unknown but are of growing concern to doctors, who have found evidence of the virus in the brain, and central nervous system (file photo) 

However, the researchers are yet to find out exactly how the elevated levels of NfL result in brain injury, saying the mechanism ‘remains to be elucidated’.   

‘We are now investigating the long-term effects in these patients, primarily through samples of blood and cerebrospinal fluid stored in Uppsala Biobank,’ says Dr Johan Virhammar, lead author of the study.  

‘This unique sample collection is the basis for several ongoing and planned studies that can help us understand the mechanisms behind the neurological complications of Covid-19. 

‘The patients will also be followed up to investigate the long-term effects on the nervous system of the infectious disease.’

The cognitive and neurological implications of Covid-19 infection remain unknown but are of growing concern to doctors. 

A team of researchers in the UK and US, for example, are beginning a research project to see if coronavirus infection increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.  

The full repercussions of brain-related problems caused by the coronavirus will not be fully understood for decades as survivors age but autopsies, mouse studies and data from other respiratory viruses are cause for concern, researchers warn. 

There is currently no evidence the coronavirus does cause Alzheimer’s but it has been found the virus is able to invade the brain and scientists hope their global study can shed light on the issue. 

Even people with moderate cases of Covid-19 can suffer STROKES and seizures, study suggests 

Moderate cases of Covid-19 which do not require treatment in intensive care can still lead to strokes and seizures, according to a new study. 

Researchers looked at the cases of 921 people who were admitted to a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, between April and July. Seventy-four had both Covid-19 and also underwent a neurologic examination. 

The study reveals symptoms such as stroke and seizures as well as inflammation may be more common than previously believed, irrespective of Covid-19 severity.    

‘We looked at people with neurologic symptoms and COVID at a racially and socioeconomically diverse hospital and found a wide range of neurologic complications,’ said study author Dr Pria Anand of Boston University. 

‘Yet the majority of these people did not require critical care, suggesting that neurologic complications may be common in people with moderate COVID-19 as well as those with severe disease.’ 

More than half the patients were black (51 per cent) and the average age was 64.

By the time the Covid-19 patients made it to hospital, 18 had suffered a stroke, 15 had had seizures, and 26 people were suffering from a type of brain dysfunction that causes confusion and delirium called toxic-metabolic encephalopathy.

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