COVID-19 linked to severe brain conditions: UK scientists

Specialists in London have linked COVID-19 to a rare form of brain inflammation. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 July 2020

COVID-19 linked to severe brain conditions: UK scientists

  • Nine cases in the UK capital are said to have shown signs of “concerning” disseminated encephalomyelitis (Adem)
  • The rare form of brain inflammation involves swelling of the brain and spinal cord

LONDON: Specialists in London have linked COVID-19 to a rare form of brain inflammation. Nine cases in the UK capital are said to have shown signs of “concerning” disseminated encephalomyelitis (Adem), which involves swelling of the brain and spinal cord, leading to weakness in the limbs, loss of balance, fatigue and drowsiness.
So far, the cases have only occurred in adults with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections, and represent the number the UK would expect to see nationally over the course of five months.
Adem is usually triggered by a viral infection, causing immune cells to attack the protective coating covering the nervous system.
COVID-19 was not detected in the brain or spinal fluid of any of the patients, according to the study, but evidence suggested that brain inflammation had been caused by an immune response to the disease.
Adem is not the only disorder linked to COVID-19. A study in the medical journal Brain has so far linked the virus to 43 different cases in the UK, including a brain disorder known as encephalopathy with delirium, which has so far affected 10 patients, and which causes confusion and even psychosis and seizures.
“We know from previous viruses that you can get neurological (consequences), so I don’t think we should be terribly surprised, but the range of clinical complications is broad,” said Dr. Ross Paterson of the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, who co-authored the study published in Brain.
“To have cases of delirium with psychosis, completely out of proportion with the respiratory virus, is unusual. The cases we are seeing are perhaps just a small snapshot of the severe end of the spectrum,” he added.
“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. Doctors need to be aware of possible neurological effects as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes.”
Patterson’s co-author Dr. Michael Zandi, also of the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, said: “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.”
Zandi added: “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 … remains to be seen.”


UK science advisers warn public on COVID-19 rates

Updated 15 min 45 sec ago

UK science advisers warn public on COVID-19 rates

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled with ministers over the weekend to discuss how the government will respond to the recent rise in cases
  • The UK reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths a day last week

LONDON: Britain’s top medical adviser says the country has, in a “very bad sense,” turned a corner on COVID-19 infection rates, with figures suggesting there will be an exponential growth in the disease unless action is taken.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty told the public on Monday that rates are going in the “wrong direction” amid expectations the government is preparing to announce new measures to control the pandemic.
“We have in a very bad sense, literally turned a corner,” after weeks of increasing infection rates.
Whitty said that if nothing is done, new infections will rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October. Hospitalizations are also doubling in seven to eight days — leading to more deaths.
There was also no indication that the virus had lessened in severity, he said. “We see no evidence that this is true.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled with ministers over the weekend to discuss how the government will respond to the recent rise in cases, which has pushed infection rates to levels last seen in May. Later this week the government is expected to announce a slate of short-term restrictions that will act as a “circuit breaker” to slow the spread of the disease.
The government is hoping to keep that number from climbing back to the peak levels of early April, when more than 5,000 cases a day were being reported.
While death rates have remained relatively low so far, public health officials warn that deaths are likely to rise in coming weeks.
The UK reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths a day last week, compared with a peak of 942 on April 10.
The government last week imposed tighter restrictions on communities in northeastern England, where the infection rate first began to rise. Bars and restaurants in those areas must now close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and people are prohibited from socializing with individuals from other households.
The rise in infection rates comes as lawmakers across the political spectrum criticize the government’s testing program. While government ministers tout the record numbers of tests being performed, there are widespread reports of people having to travel hundreds of miles for tests and tests being voided because it is taking labs too long to process them.
An effective testing program is seen as essential to controlling the pandemic because it allows the government to track infections and inform people when they should self-isolate.