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.”


Europe battles to contain virus second wave as global cases top 30 million

Updated 18 September 2020

Europe battles to contain virus second wave as global cases top 30 million

  • The British PM said there was “no question” that his country was “now seeing a second wave coming in”
  • Worldwide the respiratory disease has killed nearly 947,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China

MADRID: A host of European countries imposed new local restrictions on Friday to reduce spiralling new cases of coronavirus as they seek to avoid the example of Israel which enforced a second nationwide shutdown.
City authorities in Madrid announced a partial lockdown on nearly a million people, the British government unveiled new measures limiting social contact in several regions, while Ireland banned indoor dining at restaurants and pubs in Dublin.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was “no question” that his country was “now seeing a second wave coming in” as he toured the site of a new vaccine center.
“We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe — it has been absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable we were going to see it in this country,” he added.
In France, where new daily cases hit a fresh record of 13,000 on Friday, the government is struggling to create enough testing capacity as new hotspots emerge daily.
The city of Nice on the Riviera banned groups of more than 10 people meeting on its beach, in parks or public gardens.
Worldwide the respiratory disease has killed nearly 947,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP, while more than 30.2 million cases have been registered.
“We’re adding about 1.8 to two million cases per week to the global case count, and an average somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 deaths,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference.
“Thankfully that is not rising exponentially. This is a hugely high figure to be settling at. That is not where we want to be.”
In Madrid, one of the worst affected areas in Europe during the first wave of Covid-19 in March and April, medics warned that hospitals were getting close to capacity again.
“Intensive care units are overwhelmed with Covid patients,” Santiago Usoz, an accident and emergency medic at the October 12 hospital, told AFP.
A partial lockdown was announced for residents of several areas in densely populated, low-income neighborhoods in the south of the capital which will come into force on Monday.
People will only be allowed to leave their zone to go to work, seek medical care or take their children to school, while bars and restaurants will have to reduce their capacity by 50 percent, the regional government of Madrid said.
Rules preventing people from socialising with anyone from outside their household were imposed in northeast England on Friday, putting more than two million people under new restrictions.
These will be extended to other parts of northwest, northern and central England from Tuesday.
“We’re prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC television on Friday.
Music legend Van Morrison made his frustration known on Friday, saying he had recorded three “protest songs” called “Born To Be Free,” “As I Walked Out” and “No More Lockdown.”
Israel has become the first major country to impose another national shutdown which began on Friday, hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and wil last for three weeks.
The measures, under which people will be limited to within 500 meters of their home, will also hit other key religious holidays including Yom Kippur.
“The economy is in freefall, people are losing their jobs, they’re depressed,” said 60-year-old Yael, one of hundreds who protested in Tel Aviv late on Thursday.
“And all this for what? For nothing!“
Meanwhile, most of a group of more than a thousand Orthodox Jewish pilgrims who had camped along the border between Ukraine and Belarus left on Friday after being refused entry due to coronavirus rules.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews head to the central Ukrainian city of Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
In the United States, US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden continued to trade barbs over the handling of the pandemic.
Trump has expressed confidence that a viable Covid-19 vaccine would be ready by October, directly contradicting a top administration health expert
Elsewhere, new details emerged about a wedding in rural Maine in August which became a so-called “superspreader” event that left seven people dead and 177 infected.
The nuptials at a church and hotel near the picturesque town of Millinocket were attended by 65 people, breaking the official limit of 50 allowed at a gathering.