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Increase in delirium, rare brain inflammation and stroke linked to COVID-19

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 -- also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19 -- isolated from a patient in the US. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Credit: NIAID-RML

Neurological complications of Covid-19 can include delirium, brain inflammation, stroke and nerve damage, finds a new UCL and UCLH-led study. Published in the journal Brain, the research team identified one rare and sometimes fatal inflammatory condition, known as ADEM, which appears to be increasing in prevalence due to the pandemic.

Some patients in the study did not experience severe respiratory symptoms, and the neurological disorder was the first and main presentation of Covid-19. Joint senior author Dr. Michael Zandi (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) said: "We identified a higher than expected number of people with neurological conditions such as brain inflammation, which did not always correlate with the severity of respiratory symptoms.

"We should be vigilant and look out for these complications in people who have had Covid-19. Whether we will see an epidemic on a large scale of brain damage linked to the pandemic—perhaps similar to the encephalitis lethargica outbreak in the 1920s and 1930s after the 1918 influenza pandemic—remains to be seen." The study provides a detailed account of neurological symptoms of 43 people (aged 16-85) treated at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, UCLH, who had either confirmed or suspected Covid-19.

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