Tags: Coronavirus | Coronavirus Special | Health Topics | Cold/Flu | brain | pandemic | seizure

How COVID-19 Affects the Brain

a three dee mock up of the brain is examined by a researcher
(Alastair Grant/AP)

By    |   Friday, 17 April 2020 08:16 PM

A 74-year-old man in Boca Raton, Florida, was admitted to the emergency room in early March with a fever and cough but was sent home when x-rays revealed he did not have pneumonia.

His fever spiked the next day and he was short of breath and unable to talk so family member brought him back. He appeared to be having a seizure, and although this was not a typical symptom for the disease, he tested positive for COVID-19.

In Detroit, a 48-year-old airline worker was admitted to Henry Ford Hospital and diagnosed with COVID-19. She displayed not only the classic symptoms — fever, cough and aching muscles — but also disorientation. She could not remember her name, according to Wired.

CT and MRI scans showed her brain was aflame, swelling against her own skull. Her physicians diagnosed a rare and dangerous condition called acute necrotizing encephalopathy, or ANE, which can accompany influenza and other viral infections.  

"The pattern of involvement, and the way it rapidly progressed over days, is consistent with viral inflammation in the brain," Dr. Elissa Fory, a neurologist with Henry For Health Systems told The New York Times. "This may indicate the virus can invade the brain directly."

According to the Times, these reports echo similar scenarios reported in Italy, where some physicians even opened separate urgent units for those suffering from neurological conditions. Doctors say it is important to know how COVID-19 affects the brain, because some of these new symptoms might require a different line of treatment, according to Wired.

Dr. Sherry H-Y Chou, a neurologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is leading a team of investigators to study what happens to the brain when COVID-19 attacks.

"We absolutely need to have an information finding mission, otherwise we're flying blind," she tells the Times. "There is no ventilator for the brain. If the lungs are broken, we can put the patient on a ventilator and hope for recovery. We don't have that luxury with the brain."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says "new confusion or inability to arouse," is among the emergency warning signs for COVID-19, says the Times.

The Detroit patient is now recovering in a rehabilitation facility, according to Wired.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that she will recover," says Fory in a statement released by the hospital. The patient's case, she said, highlights the needs for physicians to expand the list of symptoms that should set COVID-19 alarm bells.

Look in the lungs, but do not forget the brain.

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Doctors say it is important to know how COVID-19 affects the brain, because some of these new symptoms might require a different line of treatment, according to Wired.
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Friday, 17 April 2020 08:16 PM
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