It is tempting to view the UK’s current situation as emerging from the rubble. The daily infection rate across the UK continues to decline and the reopening of pubs and restaurants last weekend was largely hailed a success. Despite the positive signs, the UK is yet to emerge from the first phase of the virus.
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Britain’s position may have been strengthened by the successful deployment of anti-viral drugs to market, but there is no vaccine available.
In the intervening period between now and finding a cure – which could be at least a year away – the cost to human life will be consequential.
To make matters worse, a new study conducted by the University College London (UCL), warns that the pandemic could lead a wave of brain damage in infected patients.
Experts at the University College London (UCL) have crystallised crowning concerns that COVID-19 could cause neurological complications including stroke, nerve damage, and potentially fatal brain inflammation – even if the patients didn’t show severe respiratory symptoms associated with the disease.
“We should be vigilant and look out for these complications in people who have had COVID-19,” said joint senior author Dr. Michael Zandi in a UCL press release, warning that it remains to be seen “whether we will see an epidemic on a large scale of brain damage linked to the pandemic.”
Follow-up studies will be necessary to understand the potential long-term neurological consequences of the pandemic, they said.
The study, published in the journal Brain, examined 43 patients treated at University College London Hospitals for either confirmed or suspected coronavirus, from April to May.
They varied in age from 16 to 85, and showed a range of mild to severe symptoms.
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Among these patients, researchers found 10 cases of “temporary brain dysfunction” and delirium; 12 cases of brain inflammation; eight cases of strokes; and eight cases of nerve damage.
Most of the patients who showed brain inflammation were diagnosed with a specific, rare and sometimes deadly condition known as Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM).
Before the pandemic, the research team in London would see about one ADEM patient per month.
During the study period, the number rose to at least one a week.
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Further research is required to untangle the link between COVID-19 and brain damage.
The virus causing COVID-19 was not detected in the cerebrospinal brain fluid of any of the patients tested, suggesting the virus did not directly attack the brain to cause the neurological illness, however.
What’s more, in some patients, the researchers found evidence that the brain inflammation was likely caused by an immune response to the disease, suggesting that some neurological complications of COVID-19 might come from the immune response rather than the virus itself.
The findings build on another study, which also involved Dr Zandi and co-author Dr Hadi Manji (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology), which identified 153 people with neurological complications from COVID-19.
This paper also confirmed the previously reported findings of a higher than expected number of patients with stroke which results from the excessive stickiness of the blood in COVID-19 patients.
Joint first author Dr Ross Paterson (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology) said: “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. People recovering from the virus should seek professional health advice if they experience neurological symptoms,” he added.
What should I do if my symptoms get worse?
According to the NHS, it’s important to get medical help if your symptoms get worse.
Use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service if:
- You feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home
- You feel breathless and it’s getting worse
- Your symptoms get worse and you’re not sure what to do
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