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Scientists have warned of a potential coronavirus-related brain damage on the basis of new evidence that suggested that COVID-19 can lead to severe neurological complications, including inflammation, psychosis and delirium.
A study conducted by researchers at University College London (UCL) described 43 cases of patients with COVID-19 who suffered either temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage or other serious brain effects.
Whether we will see an epidemic on a large scale of brain damage linked to the pandemic perhaps similar to the encephalitis lethargica outbreak in the 1920s and 1930s after the 1918 influenza pandemic remains to be seen," India Today quoted Michael Zandi, from UCL's Institute of Neurology, who co-led the study, as saying.
While coronavirus largely affects the lungs and creates breathing trouble, neuroscientists and specialist brain doctors say that there is an emerging evidence of its impact on the brain.
"My worry is that we have millions of people with COVID-19 now. And if in a year's time we have 10 million recovered people, and those people have cognitive deficits ... then that's going to affect their ability to work and their ability to go about activities of daily living," Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at Western University in Canada, told Reuters in an interview.
In the UCL study, published in the journal Brain, as many as nine patients who had brain inflammation were diagnosed with a rare condition called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). This condition is more usually seen in children and can be triggered by viral infections.
According to the team, normally about one adult patient with ADEM can be seen per month at their specialist London clinic. However, now this has risen to at least one a week during the study period. They said that this is "a concerning increase".
"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," said Ross Paterson, who co-led the study. "Doctors need to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."
According to Owen, to assess how common such neurological and psychiatric complications were, there is a need for large, detailed studies and global data collection.
"This disease is affecting an enormous number of people," Owen said. "That's why it's so important to collect this information now."
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