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COVID-19 no longer just a respiratory virus, evidence shows harm to human brain

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New research is showing that a positive COVID-19 test can lead later to negative results on brain health.

CBS News reports devastating damage found in autopsies of the brains of individuals who died with COVID-19.

Brain fog, which refers to mental sluggishness or lack of clarity, was detected early on with the 2020 pandemic as a health condition associated with COVID-19.

From the very early days of the pandemic, brain fog emerged as a significant health condition that many experience after COVID=19.

Evidence is now suggesting that infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, affects brain health and is also associated with strokes, trouble sleeping, headaches, seizure disorders, tingling and paralysis of the nerves and some mental health disorders.

While treatments have yet to be discovered, evidence is growing that COVID-19 harms the brain, but specifically how is unknown.

A New England Journal of Medicine study reveals that memory, planning and spatial reasoning were affected in individuals who were infected with COVID-19. Individuals who were infected when the Delta and Omicron variants were dominant and early in the pandemic showed clear mental decline.

The same study, in fact, revealed cognitive decline equal to a three-point lower IQ score for individuals who were diagnosed with mild or resolved COVID-19. Patients with a persistent symptom, including shortness of breath or fatigue, experienced a six-point loss in IQ. Admittance to the intensive care unit with COVID-19 resulted in a nine-point loss of IQ.

Imaging studies before and after COVID-19 infection show brain volume shrinkage and altered brain structure following infection. Significant prolonged inflammation of the brain was diagnosed in individuals in another study who experienced mild to moderate COVID-19, and changes to the brain equivalent to seven years of brain aging. Severe COVID-19 symptoms may create deficits and brain damage equivalent to 20 years of brain aging.

Patients who died months later of other causes and previously had severe COVID-19 were autopsied and found to still have the virus in their brain tissue.

Such evidence proves that COVID-19 is not only a respiratory virus but also affects the brain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that nearly 9 million Americans are living with long COVID.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.