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COVID-19 can affect the brain. New clues hint at how

For more than a year now, scientists have been racing to understand how the mysterious new virus that causes COVID-19 damages not only our bodies, but also our brains.

Early in the pandemic, some infected people noticed a curious symptom: the loss of smell. Reports of other brain-related symptoms followed: headaches, confusion, hallucinations and delirium. Some infections were accompanied by depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

Recent studies suggest that leaky blood vessels and inflammation are somehow involved in these symptoms. But many basic questions remain unanswered about the virus, which has infected more than 145 million people worldwide. Researchers are still trying to figure out how many people experience these psychiatric or neurological problems, who is most at risk, and how long such symptoms might last. And details remain unclear about how the pandemic-causing virus, called SARS-CoV-2, exerts its effects.

“We still haven’t established what this virus does in the brain,” says Elyse Singer, a neurologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. There are probably many answers, she says. “It’s going to take us years to tease this apart.”

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