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The One COVID-19 Symptom That Has Patients Seeing Monkeys

A new study attempts to explain the connection between coronavirus and the brain. 

Over the last several months, doctors have attempted to figure out the link between COVID-19 and neurological symptoms—and exactly how and why it causes some patients to experience delirium, brain inflammation, stroke and nerve damage. Finally, a scientific study has confirmed that the highly infectious virus can lead to neurological damage and claims to understand how it does so. 

COVID-19 Patients Experience Scary Neurological Symptoms

The study, conducted by University College London (UCL) researchers and published on Tuesday in the journal Brain, involved a sample of 43 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, ages 16-85, at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, UCLH. Of them, 10 experienced delirium, 12 had brain inflammation, 8 suffered stroke and 8, nerve damage.  According to the researchers, these neurological complications were their first—and most notable—symptom of the virus.

They explain the case of a woman who seemingly had recovered from the virus in the hospital and sent home. "She was disoriented and displayed ritualistic behavior such as putting her coat on and off repeatedly. She reported visual hallucinations, seeing lions and monkeys in her house," the researchers wrote. Some of the neurological symptoms were fatal, with one patient in particular dying of brain-destroying encephalitis.

Over a five-week period, they also noted nine cases of a very rare and potentially fatal inflammatory disorder called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM)—prevalent in children. They pointed out that in London, normally they would only see this many cases in a period of 5 months, "which indicates that COVID-19 is associated with an increased incidence of ADEM."

"We identified a higher than expected number of people with neurological conditions such as brain inflammation, which did not always correlate with the severity of respiratory symptoms," Dr. Michael Zandi (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) explained in an accompaniment to the study. 

"We should be vigilant and look out for these complications in people who have had Covid-19. 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."

Neurological Complications are an Immune Response to the Virus 

The researchers claim to have pinpointed the relationship between the virus and these neurological symptoms. Instead of being a result of the virus attacking the brain, they seem to be an immune response to it. 

"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 UCL researcher Ross Paterson. "Doctors need to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."

"Doctors need to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes," Dr. Paterson continued. "People recovering from the virus should seek professional health advice if they experience neurological symptoms," he added.

As for staying healthy yourself:  Wear your face mask, avoid crowds, social distance, wash your hands frequently, monitor your health, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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