Some coronavirus patients can suffer brain damage from the devastating infection, doctors around the world warn.
A Florida patient in his seventies lost the ability to speak at least temporarily, The New York Times reported.
Brain scans of a woman in her 50s, taken in Detroit, revealed that some of her brain cells had died as a result of a rare complication from the infection.
And similar attacks on the central nervous system have been seen in Italy and China.
While neurological complications so far appear to be a small subset of the more than 700,000 people who have the virus around the world, the reports provide a worrying picture of the potential for long-term effects.
Dark spots in brain scans (shown with arrows) indicate cell death in patients with encephalitis, the brain swelling developed by a 58-year-old woman treated in Detroit based on COVID-19 (file)
“We need to think about how we are going to include patients with severe neurological disorders in our treatment paradigm,” Dr. Elissa Fory, a Henry Ford neurologist who was part of the team that diagnosed the woman in Detroit.
“This complication is as devastating as a serious lung disease.
By the time a woman, a 58-year-old aviation worker, enrolled in a Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, she not only had the typical cough and fever seen in coronavirus patients, but was confused, disoriented, and listless.
Doctors performed a variety of diagnostic tests on the woman, including screens for the chickenpox virus and West Nile virus.
They also took a sample of her cerebrospinal fluid to check for signs of a bacterial infection affecting her central nervous system.
Everything came back negative.
But her telltale signs of a fever and cough had indicated the correct diagnosis. The woman was positive for COVID-19.
More than 200,000 Americans have coronavirus, and now doctors warn health professionals to be wary of neurological symptoms of the infection (file)
Neurological symptoms are not considered typical of the coronavirus, so the doctors also performed a CT scan of her brain.
Dark spots on the result may indicate that parts of her brain are less dense than they should appear in healthy brains.
That told the woman’s doctors that either fluid had built up in these regions, or that pieces of her brain cells had died.
In particular, the woman’s thalamus showed damage. The thalamus sends sensory information from the far reaches of the body to the cerebral cortex, which processes these signals.
Further scans showed that the woman’s brain also had lesions or cerebral haemorrhages in her temporal lobes, which include consciousness and memory as well as sensation.
All in all, the scans confirmed the doctors’ suspicions.
“The team initially suspected encephalitis, but then back-to-back CCT and MRI scans made the diagnosis,” said Dr. Fory.
Encephalitis is a dangerous brain swelling that can occur as a result of all kinds of trauma and serious infections.
Reports of brain swelling and neurological symptoms have so far been sporadic in U.S. coronavirus patients, but doctors who have seen them warn to look out for confusion (file)
It is seen periodically in – and can be the cause of death – for the flu, chickenpox or enterovirus.
Brain swelling can also cause seizures in these patients, as was seen in the 74-year-old man with coronavirus in Boca Raton, Florida. He also suffered from chronic lung disease and Parkinson’s, but his speech loss combined with the other symptoms made the man’s doctors think that he had encephalitis.
Reports of this complication have so far been sporadic in the US, but Italy has seen enough cases for one hospital at the University of Brescia to create a full ‘NeuroCovid’ unit for administration to patients with pre-existing or developed neurological disorders.
And Chinese researchers were the first to report brain complications in some coronavirus patients there.
Now, the Detroit team warns that U.S. physicians should be wary of neurological symptoms in the growing number of coronavirus patients in the United States.