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New study suggests coronavirus could lead to a brain damage epidemic

Published Jul 8th, 2020 3:28PM EDT
Coronavirus update

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  • Coronavirus update: A new coronavirus study from researchers at University College London indicates that COVID-19 can cause brain damage and a variety of neurological issues.
  • COVID-19 patients exhibited inflammation, psychosis, hemorrhaging, delirium, and more.
  • The team is worried about “an epidemic on a large scale of brain damage linked to the pandemic.”

One of the most difficult elements of the novel coronavirus pandemic is just how little we actually know about COVID-19. Countless scientists, doctors, and researchers have been working day and night in an attempt to offer appropriate guidance to the public and find treatments and therapies that may be effective against the disease, but the facts keep changing. That’s why it’s so important to do everything in your power to avoid getting sick or infecting anyone else, because the long-term consequences of contracting COVID-19 are still a mystery.

To that point, a recent study by researchers at University College London (via Reuters) suggests that we could soon be facing a wave of coronavirus-related brain damage as evidence builds that COVID-19 can cause a wide variety of neurological issues, including inflammation, psychosis, and other potentially fatal complications.

“Whether we will see an epidemic on a large scale of brain damage linked to the pandemic – perhaps similar to the encephalitis lethargica outbreak in the 1920s and 1930s after the 1918 influenza pandemic – remains to be seen,” said Michael Zandi, from UCL’s Institute of Neurology, co-leader of the study.

In the study, the researchers described 43 cases of patients who exhibited brain damage after becoming infected. COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease, but there are now multiple studies that link the disease to brain damage. Among the 43 patients, the researchers observed delirium, strokes, inflammation, hemorrhaging, and various central disorders. The researchers determined “SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with a wide spectrum of neurological syndromes affecting the whole neuraxis,” or the axis of the central nervous system.

We know that COVID-19 can take a significant toll on the body, but it is also making previously rare conditions more common. In the study, 9 of the 43 patients were diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), which usually only affects children. The researchers said they would see about one adult patient with ADEM a month at their clinic before the pandemic, but now they see at least one a week, which they call “a concerning increase.”

“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, told Reuters.

This is just one study, but Owen urges others to follow up with more detailed studies in more parts of the world.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.