Neurological Symptoms and Brain Disorders Upend Recovery Of Significant Numbers Of COVID-19 Survivors
Human Brain

Cognitive symptoms are being reported by thousands of COVID-19 survivors, even those with mild symptoms and no previous medical conditions. The symptoms often include memory loss, confusion, difficulty focusing, and dizziness. 

study published just last week covering more than 500 hospitalized patients in Chicago, found that some 82% had experienced neurological symptoms at some point during the course of their disease. The most frequent manifestations were myalgias or muscle pain, (44.8%); headaches (37.7%); encephalopathy, or altered brain function  (31.8%); dizziness (29.7%), dysgeusia, or distorted sense of taste (15.9%); and anosmia, or a loss of small (11.4%). Overall, neurologic pathologies were associated with increased morbidity and mortality, according to the study published in the journal of the American Neurological Association. 

Other studies of post-discharge patients hospitalized with COVID-19, found a wide range of common persistent symptoms, including fatigue, dyspnoea, loss of memory, concentration, and sleep disorders. 55 percent of patients experienced fatigue and 34 percent had loss of memory even 110 days after being discharged.

A report published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, surveyed 274 symptomatic adults with mild COVID-19 symptoms and found that 35 percent of interviewees had not returned to their usual state of health 2-3 weeks after their initial positive test result. For individuals aged 18-34, 26 percent experienced prolonged illness. 

Some researchers suspect that COVID-19 infections can cause long-lasting changes in the immune system, but further research and long term follow-ups are needed to understand the processes at play. 

WHO – We Are Only Beginning To Understand Long-Term Health Impacts

“We are only beginning to understand the long-term health impacts among people with ‘long-COVID’ so we can advance research and rehabilitation,” said WHO’s Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking at a WHO press conference on Monday, where he warned about the dangers of letting the virus to run free with the hope that the global population might reach some kind of herd immunity.

These persistent symptoms are having serious consequences for patients’ jobs and their ability to return to their daily lives. Speaking to the New York Times, Rick Sullivan, a COVID-19 survivor who has had cognitive symptoms since his recovery in July, said “It is debilitating. I’ve become almost catatonic. It feels as though I am under anesthesia.”

“There’s no question that there are a considerable number of individuals who have a post viral syndrome that really, in many respects, can incapacitate them for weeks and weeks following so-called recovery and clearing of the virus,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a review article of the issue published by the JAMA network in late September, entitled “As Their Numbers Grow, COVID-19 ‘Long Haulers’ Stump Experts.”  

Fauci noted that in some individuals, the symptoms are suggestive of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, however the causes of persistent COVID-19 cognitive symptoms are currently unknown. 

Mady Hornig, a faculty member of Columbia University Medical Center’s epidemiology department, was quoted in the same review saying, “because of the large number of COVID-19 cases occurring simultaneously, we have a unique scientific window and a huge responsibility to investigate any long term consequences and disabilities that COVID-19 survivors may face.”

Both WHO as well as other experts and researchers have thus underlined the importance of telling the public about the risks of prolonged COVID-19 symptoms and illness. Even if individuals are not considered high risk, precautionary measures need to be taken to avoid infection with SARS-CoV2 and the potential post-viral syndrome after COVID-19, Dr Tedros emphasized in his press conference, using “every tool in the toolbox.”  

-Raisa Santos contributed to this story.

Image Credits: DigitalRalph.

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