How COVID-19 Can Affect the Brain

COVID-19 has proven capable of affecting nearly every part of the body—including the brain. The August 17th, 2008 study included 1.28 Million people with the disease. Lancet PsychiatryThe article, which sheds light on complex and long-lasting impacts of COVID-19 upon children and adults’ minds, is available here.

Researchers analyzed the data of patients from the U.S., as well other countries. They found that those who received COVID-19 within the first two weeks were much more susceptible to anxiety and depression than those with a different type respiratory infection. People remained more at risk of developing conditions like brain fog, psychosis and dementia for as long as two years.

Long COVID—marked by at least one symptom that lingers for months after COVID-19—is a growing problem worldwide. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have previously estimated that approximately 1 in 5 Americans will get COVID-19. This week’s study helps researchers further understand the manifestations of Long COVID.

The results “highlight the need for more research to understand why this happens after COVID-19, and what can be done to prevent these disorders from occurring, or treat them when they do,” said Maxime Taquet, the study’s lead author and a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford, in a statement.

Researchers found that the risks of poor neurological or psychiatric outcomes after infection with Delta were higher than the risks after infection with the original variant—and about the same as the risks after Omicron. Alter group also affected the effects. COVID-19 was found to be more common in older adults 65 years and over than other respiratory illnesses.

Learn More: There’s a chance you could have COVID for a long time and not even know it

There were 450 dementia cases among COVID-19-infected patients aged over 10, 000, as compared with 330 for those who suffered from other respiratory conditions. Brain fog also occurred more frequently: 1,230 cases per 10,000 patients with other illnesses were reported, and 1,540 for COVID-19.

Less dramatic results were seen in the younger age groups. The risk of dementia was similar for those aged 64 or younger with either COVID-19 (or another respiratory infection). There were 640 brain fog cases for those with COVID-19. This was compared to the 550 that occurred in people with different respiratory conditions.

While children were at a lower risk for poor brain outcomes overall than adults, seizures and epilepsy in the first two years after being infected by COVID-19 was twice as high (260 cases out of 10,000) in these children than in those with other respiratory infections. The risk that children will be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder is still low. However, researchers did notice an increase in COVID-19 cases in kids, compared to those who were infected by other respiratory diseases (6.3 per 10,000).

Meanwhile, the risk of anxiety and depression wasn’t any greater for children who had COVID-19 than for those who had other respiratory infections. SARS-CoV-2 infected children showed mood and anxiety disorders that were at their peak. But, they returned to baseline two months later, and the risk for anxiety and depression decreased across all age groups.

“It is good news that the excess of depression and anxiety diagnoses after COVID-19 is short-lived, and that it is not observed in children,” said study author Paul Harrison, a professor in Oxford’s psychiatry department, in a statement. “However, it is worrying that some other disorders, such as dementia and seizures, continue to be more likely diagnosed after COVID-19, even two years later.”

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