1 in 3 COVID-19 survivors got neurological condition in 6 months, says Lancet study

(This story was first published in the Times of India on April 8, 2021)

Mumbai:
A new research paper in The Lancet has said one in three Covid-19 survivors in the United States developed a neurological or psychiatric condition within six months of the infection.

The study, which tracked electronic health records of nearly 2.4 lakh Covid patients mostly from the US, said anxiety was the most common post-Covid ailment that affected 17% of the survivors, followed by mood disorders (14%). A small percentage suffered brain hemorrhage and dementia, especially among patients who suffered severe Covid infections.

1



Pandemic-causing viruses have been associated with long-term neurological problems in some survivors. Studies have shown people born during the 1918 Spanish Flu had two- to three-fold risk of developing Parkinson’s-like symptoms than those born before 1888 or after 1924.

During a recent talk, neuro-psychiatrist Dr Rajesh Parikh from Jaslok Hospital, Pedder Road, said meta-analysis of pandemics that preceded Covid—Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)—had shown sleep disorders in 100% of the survivors. Memory impairment was seen in about a fifth of the patients while 10% had depression, he had said.

An unrelated study from Canadian McGill University a few months back said as Covid- causes a cytokine storm in many patients, it could lead to an increase in the incidence of Parkinsonism among those recovered.

The new Lancet paper underlines this SARS-CoV-2-neurological link. The study’s lead author Paul Harrison from the University of Oxford in the UK said: “These are real-world data from a large number of patients. They confirm the high rates of psychiatric diagnoses after Covid-19, and show that serious disorders affecting the nervous system (such as stroke and dementia) occur too. While the latter are much rarer, they are significant, especially in those who had severe Covid-19.”

Neurologist Dr Dhanashri Chonkar from Fortis Hospital, Mumbai, said similar complaints have been noticed in Mumbai as well, mainly because viruses induce changes in the brain’s neurochemicals.

“Families of survivors say they have noticed cognitive impairment in their elderly relative after Covid,” she said.

Stress and depression are other problems diagnosed in post-Covid clinics in Mumbai.

The Oxford team also said brain diseases and psychiatric disorders are more common after Covid than after flu or other respiratory infections.

A senior neurologist with a public hospital, though, said it’s difficult to prove that Covid has had a specific role in triggering degenerative neurological diseases. “How are we to know the patient wouldn’t have got the disease in normal course of time anyway?’” the doctor asked.

Dr Chonkar concurred, saying it is difficult to pinpoint Covid or any viral infection for the appearance of a degenerative disease. “In an elderly patient, for instance, family members may be noticing cognitive impairment now that they are spending time at home and keeping tabs after the Covid infection.”

Leave a Reply