Neurologists in the UK are warning of a potential “hidden epidemic” of brain disorders after dozens of recovering Covid-19 patients presented with brain inflammation, delirium, nerve damage, and strokes.
The research, published Wednesday in the journal Brain, makes for sobering reading as doctors may be missing signs of potentially fatal brain disorders developing in mild and recovering Covid-19 patients. The appearance and severity of the brain conditions did not necessarily correlate with severe respiratory symptoms associated with Covid-19.
“It’s a concern if some hidden epidemic could occur after Covid where you’re going to see delayed effects on the brain, because there could be subtle effects on the brain and slowly things happen over the coming years, but it’s far too early for us to judge now,” Michael Zandi, a senior author on the study and a consultant at the institute and University College London Hospitals NHS foundation trust, said.
The study looked at 43 UK Covid-19 patients aged 16 to 85, many of whom did not experience any of the respiratory symptoms typically associated with the disease, instead presenting neurological disorders as their primary symptoms.
Of the 43, a dozen patients had inflamed central nervous systems, 10 had brain disease with delirium or psychosis, eight had strokes, and a further eight had peripheral nerve damage in the form of Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the immune system attacks the nerves causing paralysis.
Among the patients studied, the researchers reported that one 55-year-old woman with no history of psychiatric illness began hallucinating and reported seeing lions and monkeys in her house and was prescribed antipsychotic medication upon readmission to hospital.
Worryingly, doctors noted a rise in a life-threatening condition called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM): instances rose from just one a month prior to the pandemic to two or three per week in April and May. ADEM is fatal in five percent of cases, and one 59-year-old woman in the patient group studied died from the condition.