Scientists highlight potential link between COVID-19 and brain damage

Scientists highlight potential link between COVID-19 and brain damage
© AFP/Pool

Scientists are calling attention to a potential link between COVID-19 and brain damage after a study released Wednesday found more evidence to suggest that the virus can cause neurological issues.

Researchers at the University College London (UCL) conducted the study involving 43 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections who developed neurological symptoms, like inflammation, psychosis and delirium. The study was published in the journal Brain.

The scientists identified 10 cases of temporary brain dysfunction with delirium, 12 cases of brain inflammation, eight cases of strokes and eight patients with nerve damage. Most of those with inflammation were diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare disease that the researchers said has increased in prevalence during the pandemic. 

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Before the pandemic, the scientists said they would usually see about one adult patient with ADEM per month. But during the study, they saw at least one a week, which they said was a “concerning increase.”

"We should be vigilant and look out for these complications in people who have had Covid-19,” study co-author Michael Zandi of the UCL Institute of Neurology said in a statement. “Whether we will see an epidemic on a large scale of brain damage linked to the pandemic ... remains to be seen."

Some of the patients, aged 16 to 85, examined for the study did not experience respiratory symptoms at all, with the neurological disorder instead becoming “the first and main” symptom of COVID-19. 

“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,” Ross Patterson, a study co-author from the Institute of Neurology, noted. 

This study's findings adds to previous research from UCL that determined that 153 people had neurological issues due to COVID-19. 

Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at Western University in Canada, told Reuters that he is worried that “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.”

Owen is organizing an international research project through which volunteers participate in cognitive tests to determine whether COVID-19 affected their brain functions.