Coronavirus Might Attack the Brain, Too
Strange gets stranger as Covid-19 now appears to invade more than the respiratory and digestive systems
Early analyses of Covid-19 patients in January told of the most common symptoms: fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. More diagnosed cases and research revealed less common symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea, indicating that in some people, the coronavirus was disrupting the digestive system, not just the respiratory tract.
By late February, we learned of mysterious cases involving no symptoms at all — silent super-spreaders of a deadly disease who didn’t even know they had it and felt nothing. Then, last month, things got stranger, as reports emerged of diagnosed Covid-19 cases in people who had lost their sense of smell yet showed few or no other symptoms of the disease. Along the way, physicians reported some people with Covid-19 experiencing mild cold- or flu-like symptoms, ranging from sniffles to fatigue.
It’s not yet clear how SARS-CoV-2 might be affecting the brain, but experience with other viruses, including the flu, suggests it certainly could make its way there.
Evidence so far, however, involves only anecdotes from physicians telling of Covid-19 patients initially experiencing confusion, headaches, and other symptoms that may be caused by inflammation of the brain, along with early studies involving small numbers of patients — sometimes just one.
Meanwhile, it’s not clear whether or to what extent the coronavirus attacks the brain directly versus Covid-19’s respiratory effects robbing the brain of oxygen.
“It is very difficult to separate the two,” says Chethan Rao, MD, a practicing physician and associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Baylor College of Medicine Medical Center.
Rao suspects both factors are at work. And things can deteriorate quickly. He has seen otherwise healthy Covid-19 patients go from talking normally while receiving a…