Neurologic symptoms and COVID-19: What’s known, what isn’t


A global view

Scientists observed SARS-CoV in the brains of infected people and animals, particularly the brainstem, they noted. Given the similarity of SARS-CoV to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the researchers suggest a similar invasive mechanism could be occurring in some patients.

Although it hasn’t been proven, Dr. Li and colleagues suggest COVID-19 could act beyond receptors in the lungs, traveling via “a synapse‐connected route to the medullary cardiorespiratory center” in the brain. This action, in turn, could add to the acute respiratory failure observed in many people with COVID-19.

Other neurologists tracking and monitoring case reports of neurologic symptoms potentially related to COVID-19 include Dr. Mayer and Amelia Boehme, PhD, MSPH, an epidemiologist at Columbia University specializing in stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Boehme suggested on Twitter that the neurology community conduct a multicenter study to examine the relationship between the virus and neurologic symptoms/sequelae.

Medscape Medical News interviewed Michel Dib, MD, a neurologist at the Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, who said primary neurologic presentations of COVID-19 occur rarely – and primarily in older adults. As other clinicians note, these include confusion and disorientation. He also reports cases of encephalitis and one patient who initially presented with epilepsy.

Initial reports also came from neurologists in countries where COVID-19 struck first. For example, stroke, delirium, epileptic seizures and more are being treated by neurologists at the University of Brescia in Italy in a dedicated unit designed to treat both COVID-19 and neurologic syndromes, Alessandro Pezzini, MD, reported in Neurology Today, a publication of the American Academy of Neurology.

Dr. Pezzini noted that the mechanisms behind the observed increase in vascular complications warrant further investigation. He and colleagues are planning a multicenter study in Italy to dive deeper into the central nervous system effects of COVID-19 infection.

Clinicians in China also report neurologic symptoms in some patients. A study of 221 consecutive COVID-19 patients in Wuhan revealed 11 patients developed acute ischemic stroke, one experienced cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, and another experienced cerebral hemorrhage.

Older age and more severe disease were associated with a greater likelihood for cerebrovascular disease, the authors reported.

Drs. Chen and Li have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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