British researchers recently conducted a study of 235,379 COVID-19 survivors over a six-month period after they survived their initial infection. The researchers discovered that one out of three patients had various forms of a psychiatric or neurologic disability.
The Conversation reported that one explanation for long-term COVID-19 effects on the brain may be that the disease affects numerous organs including the heart, lungs, brain, intestines, and kidneys.
Another assumption relates to COVID’s significant effect on the immune system.
In fact, a review of autopsies does not show evidence of COVID-19 fragments in the brain. This gives weight to the immune system theory as a reason for brain dysfunction.
About the Study
The study involved comparing COVID-19 patients to others that did not have COVID-19 but had respiratory illnesses of a similar nature. They discovered that the group with COVID-19 developed a significant number of conditions not experienced by the non-COVID-19 group.
The conditions that were prominent in the COVID-19 group included anxiety, nerve disorders, loss of memory, depression, insomnia, and substance abuse. These symptoms occurred in all age groups, in patients who were hospitalized, and even in patients maintaining strict adherence to CDC guidelines.
Over the past year, scientists have been unable to account for numerous occurrences, after COVID, of post-traumatic stress disorder, brain fog, or lung, heart, and gastrointestinal diseases. These disorders seemingly occurred well after COVID-19 symptoms had been resolved. Researchers are looking for answers.
An Educated Guess
Researchers have the flu pandemic of 1918 and the 2003 SARS epidemic to provide some evidence of the challenges they will face with COVID-19. The current assumption is that the effects will be long-term.
There are some theories being considered that suggest:
- The virus causes organ damage
- Acute infection causes ongoing activation of the immune system
- Virus particles remaining in the body
Researchers do agree, however, that a virus can cause the body to produce an inflammatory reaction that resists treatment.
This appears to suggest that the immune system is somehow involved but no answers to the true cause or symptoms have emerged as yet.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis) is a case in point. It is thought to result after long-term activation of the immune system even after the infection is no longer active.
A Positive Spin on COVID-19 Vaccines
There has been much speculation about the new COVID-19 vaccines. Yet many COVID-19 patients who have recovered have reported either a complete resolution or partial improvement in their symptoms after receiving the vaccine.
Other recovered patients report positive results after a minimum dosing of steroids.
A New Initiative
This year the NIH announced a $1.15 billion study of long COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2. COVID is being studied in the context of one disease that results from a previous disease (sequelae). The term collectively is post-acute sequelae.
The study has several goals including vulnerabilities that may lead to long-COVID-19, how many people have been affected, and what causes its symptoms.
Scientists must be diligent in providing the most up-to-date information so that society can cooperate in resolving the problem. COVID-19 is one of the main socio-economic issues in the world today and will continue to affect millions of people for years.