Even though COVID-19 cannot directly infect nerve cells, the virus can still damage the nervous system.
And earlier this month, scientists from the University of Basel in Switzerland studied the exact mechanisms behind this phenomenon– known as “neuro-COVID.”
While infected with SARS-CoV-2, some people may lose their sense of smell or taste. For other infected individuals, though, the virus’s effects on the nervous system are much more severe– ranging from persistent concentration issues to stroke.
So, the researchers sought to understand how “neuro-COVID” is developed. The team specifically analyzed how varying severities of the phenomenon can be detected as well as predicted via blood plasma and cerebrospinal fluid tests.
The study consisted of forty patients infected with COVID-19 who suffered from differing degrees of neurological symptoms.
The patient’s blood plasma and cerebrospinal fluid samples were then compared with samples from a control group in order to identify the normal impacts associated with neuro-COVID.
The team also took brain structure measurements and conducted follow-up surveys thirteen months later to see if any symptoms were long-lasting.
Among the patient group with the most severe neurological symptoms, the researchers found a relationship with an overactive immune response.
Some affected individuals showed signs of impairment in the blood-brain barrier, which the team believes was likely due to a “cytokine storm”– or when too many cytokines are released into the blood too quickly due to a severe immune reaction.