General, Research, Technology

Is coronavirus damaging the brain stem?

Despite the fact that in Russia and other countriesrestrictions are gradually being lifted around the world, the situation with the spread of COVID-19 remains alarming. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States, up to 25 million people could be infected with a coronavirus in the country, and experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) recall that the pandemic is still in full swing. We would love to tell you the good news, but the latest scientific research is worrisome - the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus damages the brain, causing headaches, strokes and cramps.

The new coronavirus may turn out to be a virus that actually attacks the brain stem

The consequences of coronavirus

Some scientists suspect that COVID-19causes not only respiratory failure and lung damage, but also other symptoms that relate to signs of brain damage. According to previous studies, such as a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, patients with confirmed Covid-19 showed neurological symptoms ranging from cognitive impairment to confusion. These are signs of "encephalopathy" (a generic term for brain damage), a trend that researchers in Wuhan noticed in patients back in February.

Prevalence of neurological disorders inpatients with Covid-19, including mild symptoms such as headache, loss of smell (anosmia) and tingling (arkoparasthesia), up to more severe ones such as aphasia (inability to speak), strokes and cramps, in total identified more than 300 studies from around the world. And this is in addition to recent findings that the new coronavirus can also harm the kidneys, liver, heart, and almost every body system.

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Healthcare providers caring for patient Covid-19, Brazil; some patients recover in two days, while others take months to recover.

According to The BBC Future, as the number growsconfirmed cases of Covid-19 not only the general manifestations of the disease will become noticeable, but also unusual symptoms that doctors have never encountered. Complicating matters even further is that many people suffering from the effects of the infection do not get tested, especially if they do not have a cough or a fever. This means that if they have neurological symptoms, we may never know if this was due to Sars-CoV-2.

There is a significant percentage of patients infected with Covid-19 whose only symptom is confusion. They have no cough and fatigue. We are faced with a secondary pandemic of neurological diseases.

Robert Stevens
Resuscitation anesthetist at Johns Hopkins University.

It should be noted that most viralpandemics (including influenza) have a U-shaped mortality curve, killing young and old. But in children, Sars-CoV-2 usually causes mild symptoms. The new coronavirus also disproportionately affects men: up to 70% of patients admitted to intensive care around the world were men, although men and women were infected with the same frequency.

Overall, over the past couple of months, researcherslearned that the disease affects various body systems: patients can die not only from pulmonary failure, but also from renal failure, thrombosis, liver pathologies and neurological manifestations. Stevens also notes that patients with Covid-19 do not seem to be sensitive to the medications commonly used by doctors. However, the main question is: how does coronavirus affect the brain?

This is interesting: What will happen if the vaccine against coronavirus is not invented?

Coronavirus and brain

Most researchers believe thatthe neurological effect of the virus is an indirect result of either oxygen starvation of the brain (“happy hypoxia” observed in many patients) or a by-product of the inflammatory response of the body (the famous “cytokine storm”). So, in Japan, researchers reported the case of a 24-year-old man who was found unconscious on the floor in a pool of his own vomit. He suffered seizures all over his body, and after hospitalization, an MRI scan revealed acute signs of viral meningitis (inflammation of the brain). Lumbar puncture revealed the presence of Sars-CoV-2 in the cerebrospinal fluid.

Neurological symptoms are less common among Covid-19 patients than lung problems, but recovery may take longer.

Chinese researchers also found tracesvirus in the cerebrospinal fluid of a 56-year-old man suffering from severe encephalitis. And after a post-mortem examination of a Covid-19 patient in Italy, researchers found viral particles in the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels of the brain. In some countries, such as France, autopsy of Covid-19 patients is strictly limited (or explicitly prohibited), which makes the Italian find even more important and exciting.

Today, some researchers suspect thatthe virus causes respiratory failure and death, not through damage to the lungs, but through damage to the brain stem, a command center that ensures that we continue to breathe even in an unconscious state.

The brain is usually protected against infectious diseases.the so-called "blood-brain barrier" - a membrane of specialized cells inside the capillaries passing through the brain and spinal cord. They block the penetration of microbes and other toxic substances into the brain. If Sars-CoV-2 can cross this barrier, it means that the virus can not only penetrate the core of the central nervous system, but stay there and return after a few years.