The coming wave: How the coronavirus damages the brain

The coming wave: How the coronavirus damages the brain

COVID-19 infection can cause irreparable neurological complications

If anything has become clear during the pandemic we are experiencing, it is that COVID-19 infection can be more than respiratory disease. Now, the medical community warns of a possible wave to come: that of the neurological and neuropsychiatric sequelae that SARS-CoV-2 can cause in some infected people.

Coronavirus can harm the brain causing hallucinations, nerve damage, strokes, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and even life-threatening brain inflammation, even when the patients do not show severe respiratory symptoms.

Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (EAD)

After analyzing data from 43 patients at London University Hospital aged 16 to 85 with mild to severe symptoms, experts from the University College of London found that 12 of them suffered brain inflammation; 10 showed delirium and a condition known as “temporary brain dysfunction”; eight had strokes and another eight had nerve damage.

Nine of the patients with brain inflammation presented Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (EAD), a rare and, in some cases, fatal condition, in which the immune system attacks myelin, a protective substance that covers nerve cells. It often occurs as a sequel to a viral infection.

British doctors noted that, prior to the pandemic, they treated one ADD patient per month on average; but during the investigation period, they found at least once a week. However, did not detect the virus in the brain or cerebrospinal fluid of the patients.

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Experts noted that the COVID-19 pandemic could cause a wave of neurological complications in the infected, “perhaps similar to the outbreak of lethargic encephalitis in the 1920s and 1930s after the 1918 flu pandemic”, But that remains to be seen”. They also called on doctors to be alert to these neurological effects, as “early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes,” they wrote in the report published in the journal Brain.

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)

Another brain condition that experts have observed in some COVID-19 patients is Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Although it shares some characteristics with EAD, such as myelin damage and a history of viral infection, it affects different sectors of the nervous system. It is characterized by causing muscle weakness and tingling in the extremities.

According to The Science Times, GBS has been reported only in ten cases of coronavirus patients worldwide, two in the US, five in Italy, two in Iran, and one more in Wuhan, China. The publication notes that it is not the first time that pandemics have been associated with neurological diseases: Previous outbreaks of coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS or the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic also increased GBS cases worldwide.

However, more information is required to directly link GBS to COVID-19. Experts point out that the cause of GBS, as in the case of EAD, it is actually the immune response generated in the body to fight the virus, not the virus itself. Loss of vision, muscle weakness, and a prolonged headache are symptoms that should be ignored.

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