The current health climate worldwide has us experiencing a whole new way to live life – we’re adapting in ways we never thought we’d need to. While we’re busy trying to learn how to fit into this new routine, there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding COVID-19 and how it does, and might affect us. The questions arising from this current pandemic are compounding daily. How do we best treat it? Are there genetic components that contribute to our susceptibility? What demographics are most at risk, and are we predisposed to a more difficult time combating symptoms based on certain diseases or disorders?
Many of these questions are partially answered with so many more questions arising daily. Today we want to touch on how COVID-19 affects the brain and what the growing number of cases are teaching neurologists and brain specialists around the world. As the health climate evolves during this pandemic, the data is coming in at an exponential rate. So what does the landscape look like from here? It may be a surprise to learn that various strains of coronavirus have been on Earth for as long as we have…and longer! In fact, the human coronavirus causes roughly 30% of common cold cases. Our current dilemma, caused by the virus known as SARS-CoV-2, is an example of how violent, quick, and devastating a disease like COVID-19 can affect our population.
Coronavirus and the Brain – What’s the Connection?
Pierre Talbot, Professor of Virology at the Institut Armand-Frappier, Université du Québec, Laval, Québec has recently fired warning shots. His research brings to light the very possible link between the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and brain infections – an infection that impacts neurons controlling breathing. His stance on this particular coronavirus is further backed by a recent publication by Yan-Chao Li, Wan-Zhu Bai, and Tsutomo Kashikawa from the Jilian University of China and RIKEN Brain Science.
Collectively, leading scientists and researchers in the viral, neuroscience and medical fields seem to be reaching a common ideology; the possibility for a connection between the brain and COVID-19 should be observed and recognized. In the paper published above, it was seen that a startling number of patients admitted to the ICU (89% of those individuals) at Chinese hospitals experienced the inability to breathe on their own, with 36% of them showing neurological signs. More recently, halfway across the globe, a patient in Detroit, Michigan was admitted to the hospital with common COVID-19 symptoms. Her story differs from many who present with common symptoms. This patient found herself suddenly disoriented and unable to remember much. After doctors at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit proceeded with MRI and CT scans, they discovered an inflamed brain. Her brain was dotted with lesions, dead or dying neurons, in regions that impacted her memory and sensory signals.
While there isn’t enough data or peer reviewed information on whether or not COVID-19 is the culprit, the leading experts don’t seem to think it’s far off. After all, COVID-19 shares a 79% genetic identity with SARS-CoV, the virus that causes SARS. SARS is known to travel through the olfactory nerve into the brain – further impeding function by residing in neurons.
How COVID-19 Affects the Brain – Short and Long Term View
If it turns out that a huge component in the way COVID-19 infects and overruns the human body is through neurons…what does that mean for the future? As cases continue to be diagnosed, more data can be gathered and handed over to researchers with their noses down looking for a cure. But it isn’t just a cure we should be thinking about. If neurological symptoms are to be closely considered, and immediate intensive care is to evolve to handle this strange new infection, the medical and scientific professions will also be looking to the future. Observing neurological symptoms and how to catch them early and treat them fast may be the key to getting a handle on this pandemic. Those diagnosed with this novel coronavirus may soon discover that their neurological symptoms are long lasting and may impact them for the remainder of their lives. The effects diseases that attack the brain have on neurological health can be devastating. Similar to diseases like Menigitis, COVID-19 can affect motor skills, speech, hearing, vision, developmental delays, and can even lead to learning and cognitive disabilities.
So where do we go from here? Now that leading scientists have started weighing in on the potential link between the two, perhaps advancements may come sooner. Due to the economic impact this pandemic is having, the impact of fundraising efforts to organizations like United Brain Association are pivotal in furthering research and studies. By helping to discover avenues for faster diagnosis, more effective treatments, and the development of medications to fight and treat the ongoing effects of the disease, maybe the world can rest a little easier sooner than we think.