The most common symptoms are fever, a dry cough and loss of taste and smell. The majority of deaths are due to respiratory failure. But more studies about COVID-19 are now focusing on neurological factors in what is still a largely mysterious pandemic. In the last few weeks, findings from around the world give support for earlier indications of coronavirus infections being linked to the brain.

  • Sweden: A study from the University of Gothenburg shows that certain patients in ICU care have suffered brain damage, reports daily Stockholm-based Svenska Dagbladet. Doctors already knew that severe infections impaired cognitive abilities, but it turns out that even patients not in need of respiratory assistance have experienced similar complications. Swedish scientists are now investigating whether the damage is caused directly by the virus or by immune system failure.
  • Italy: Up to 30% of COVID-19 patients have had some impact on the brain, according to Professor Alessandro Padovani, head of the neurology unit at the University of Brescia, who launched a "NeuroCovid" center to study the effects of the virus on the brain. Padovani told Corriere della Sera that the impact on the brain of COVID-19 patients is a more severe version of the potential neurological risks of a typical flu, particularly for the elderly, including a 1.5% higher likelihood of suffering a stroke. This is one of the reasons it is advisable to get a flu shot, Padovani said.

Inside the COVID department of a hospital in Palermo, Italy — Photo: Igor Petyx/IPA/ZUMA

  • France: Director general of health Jérôme Salomon confirmed in April that neurologic lesions were often identified in patients in intensive care — lesions that were sometimes temporary and sometimes permanent. The first symptoms of neurologic lesions that were highlighted in France were anosmia and ageusia, alteration of the sense of smell and the loss of taste functions.
  • United States: In some cases, impaired respiration is due to damage in the brain center that controls breathing, according to findings from a research team from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. They also identified an inflammation in the area of the brain that determines the respiratory rate. The study shows that injecting anti-inflammatory drugs into the central nervous system reduces inflammation both in the brain and in the lungs.
  • China: A Chinese study published in the Journal of Medical Virology also suggests that SARS-CoV-2 can induce neuronal damage. The study compared the novel coronavirus to previous ones, like HEV67 and avian bronchitis virus, which can first invade the peripheral nerve endings and then access the nervous system.


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