COVID-19 is persistently infecting more people, and scientists are getting a closer look at autopsies' revelation of the "strange and frightening damage" the disease can inflict on human bodies.
It's been known since the onset of this pandemic that COVID-19 wreaks havoc beyond the respiratory system, also resulting in gastrointestinal conditions, heart impairment, and blood clotting.
Now, one year into the global health crisis, the said autopsies of COVID-19 patients have presented greater details of more prevalent inflammation and damage in brain tissues.
This may help explain the deluge of neurological symptoms manifesting in some patients ranging from headaches, loss of memory, dizziness, weakness and hallucinations, to more severe conditions like strokes and seizures.
ScienceAlert reported that some approximate that up to 50 percent of hospital confinements due to COVID-19 "could have neurological symptoms" that can leave patients struggling to attend to even common everyday tasks like meal preparation, for one.
According to Ravindra Nath, a physician and National Institute of Health clinical director, they were completely surprised. Originally, the NIH official added, "We expected to see damage that is caused by lack of oxygen."
Instead, they saw "multifocal areas of damage" typically linked to strokes and neuro-inflammatory diseases.
Researchers at the NIH, including Nath and physician Myoung-Hwa Lee, conducted closer investigations of brain tissues of 19 deceased COVID-19 patients.
The age of the said patients ranged from five to 73 years, and a lot of them had risk factors for severe COVID-19 infection, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Brain Abnormalities Detected
With a powerful MRI microscopy, Lee and the research team identified 10 patients who had brain abnormalities. Closer analysis under a microscope showed "hyperintensities," bright spots found in the brain samples' micrograph image, which fluorescent microscopy presented to be leaked fibrinogen, a type of blood protein.
T cells, as well as the specialized immune cells of the brain called microglia, surrounded hyperintensities in a number of patients. There were dark areas of clotted bleeding detected, as well.
Such detections led the study authors to conclude the said patients had experienced "multiple, mini brain bleeds," a type of impairment typically linked to brain inflammation.
According to Nath, "the very small blood vessels in the brain were leaking." More so, the physician added, "it was not evenly; you would find a small blood vessel here and a small blood vessel there."
It's not just those who are seriously ill enough to necessitate intensive care, the expert explained, "or have pre-existing conditions," that have exhibited neurological symptoms resulting from COVID-19.
In September, University of Liverpool neurologist Benedict Michael told Nature they had seen this "group of young people without conventional risk factors who are having strokes," and patients with acute changes in mental condition "that are not otherwise explained."
Traces of Brain Virus
While other studies have found traces of the virus in the brain, the levels are low and seem to be infrequent or rare. So far, Nath elaborated, their findings suggest that the impairment they saw may not have resulted from the SARS-CoV-2 virus directly infecting the brain.
Instead, such damage maybe because of the inflammatory response of the body to the virus. Due to the low sample size and limited clinical data, the team said they cannot draw any direct conclusions just yet.
However, their results align with EEG examinations showed encephalopathy in COVID-19 patients, disturbances in the usual electrical activity of the brain that can indicate swelling and inflammation.
Furthermore, it aligns too with the studies that show the infection can stimulate other dangerous immune reactions that, in certain circumstances, lead to even more danger compared to the virus itself has, directly. This particular study came out in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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