Health

Coronavirus could cause brain infection ‘that alters your mental state’, doc warns


A HIGH temperature and a new, continuous cough are the two main symptoms of coronavirus.

However, scientists are now warning that the deadly disease could trigger more disturbing effects – including altering your “mental status”.

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 Scientists are now warning that Covid-19 could alter your 'mental status'

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Scientists are now warning that Covid-19 could alter your ‘mental status’Credit: Getty Images – Getty

In particular, top experts say the bug can invade the brain directly in rare circumstances, causing brain inflammation.

Researchers from the Henry Ford Health System made the discovery while treating a 58-year-old woman who tested positive for Covid-19.

As well as presenting the typical Covid-19 symptoms of a cough and a high temperature, the woman, who has not been named, also begun feeling confused, fatigued and disorientated.

Medics decided to carry out an MRI scan which identified abnormal lesions in her brain.

This confirmed that the woman had developed acute necrotising encephalitis (ANE) – a central nervous infection.

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ANE is a rare disease characterised by brain damage (encephalopathy) that usually follows a viral infection.

It’s previously been linked to infections like the flu, chickenpox and enterovirus – but now doctors believe could also be associated with the new coronavirus.

While this is believed to be one of the only cases of ANE linked to Covid-19, the researchers have urged doctors to be aware of a possible link.

Dr Elissa Fory, who was part of the study which was published in Radiology, said: “The pattern of involvement, and the way that it rapidly progressed over days, is consistent with viral inflammation of the brain.

The virus can invade the brain directly in rare circumstances

Dr Elissa Fory

“This may indicate the virus can invade the brain directly in rare circumstances.

“This is significant for all providers to be aware of and looking out for in patients who present with an altered level of consciousness.

“We need to be thinking of how we’re going to incorporate patients with severe neurological disease into our treatment paradigm. This complication is as devastating as severe lung disease.”

 The most common signs of coronavirus in confirmed cases of Covid-19 from China up to February 22, 2020

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The most common signs of coronavirus in confirmed cases of Covid-19 from China up to February 22, 2020

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Other scientists across the world have also revealed that a small subset of patients with Covid-19 are developing serious impairments of the brain.

US doctors have reported a case where a patient with coronavirus lost the ability to speak.

In particular, in early March, doctors in Florida treated a man who had a cough and a fever, however, an X-ray ruled out pneumonia and he was sent home.

Despite this, the next day, his fever spiked and, on returning to the hospital, he could not tell doctors his name or explain what was wrong.

Strokes and seizures

The patient, who had chronic lung disease and Parkinson’s, was flailing his arms and legs in jerky movements, and appeared to be having a seizure.

Doctors suspected he had Covid-19, and were eventually proven right when he was finally tested.

These reports follow similar observations by doctors in Italy and other parts of the world, of Covid-19 patients having strokes, seizures, encephalitis-like symptoms and blood clots, as well as tingling or numbness in the extremities, called acroparesthesia.

In some cases, patients were delirious even before developing fever or respiratory illness, according to Dr. Alessandro Padovani, whose hospital at University of Brescia in Italy opened a separate NeuroCovid unit to care for patients with neurological conditions.

He revealed that the patients who come in with encephalopathy are confused and lethargic and may appear dazed, exhibiting strange behaviour or staring off into space.

They may also be having seizures that require immediate medical care.

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Experts have emphasised that most Covid-19 patients appear to be normal neurologically.

“Most people are showing up awake and alert, and neurologically appear to be normal,” said Dr. Robert Stevens, a neurologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore who is tracking neurological observations.

Neurological specialists also say that it is too early to make definitive statements or identify the specific mechanisms by which the new coronavirus is affecting the brain.

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