Coronavirus: How it could attack brains of some patients

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Nicole Hutcherson, a nurse, said her father Frank Carter had shown no signs of dementia prior to getting sick. Carter had said he was feeling nauseous and was vomiting. Hutcherson stopped by his home to check on him and give him an IV. But when she got to her father’s home, he was not aware of what was going on, NBC News reported.

“He looked distant. He just had this weird look in his eye, like his mental state had changed,” Hutcherson told NBC News.

Hutcherson said she believes that her father’s mental state was the first sign of the COVID-19 infection that ended up killing him.

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And she’s not the only one seeing a connection.

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Neurology found that of 214 patients in Wuhan, China, more than a third of patients had neurologic symptoms like loss of consciousness and stroke, NBC News reported.

Doctors in the U.S. are seeing the same thing.

Dr. Johanna Fifi, the associate director of the cerebrovascular center at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, said the hospital is seeing more patients than normal with large strokes, and the patients are in their 30s and 40s.

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Over two weeks, five patients, all under the age of 49, with COVID-19 had strokes because of a blockage in one of the major blood vessels going to the brain.

Two of the patients had mild symptoms of the coronavirus, three had no symptoms.

Dr. E. Wesley Ely, a professor of medicine and critical care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told NBC News, other symptoms like the loss of smell and taste for some coronavirus patients are neurologic.

Ely said that means the virus is “probably invading the brain.”

Dr. Felicia Chow, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, said that the systems being affected by the virus “make us highly suspicious that ... the cranial nerves may be affected by the virus. We just don’t have any direct proof at this point,” NBC News reported.

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The New England Journal of Medicine also recently published a study, this time performed on patients in intensive care units in Strasbourg, France, from March 3 through April 3.

The study looked at older patients with a median age of 63.

Seven had prior neurologic disorders like mild cognitive impairment and epilepsy.

Using the Confusion Assessment Method for the ICU, 26 of 40 patients tested had some confusion.

Click here to read the entire study and its findings.

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Other doctors are seeing other neurological side effects in addition to the loss of taste and smell like brain inflammation, hallucinations and seizures, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Some patients who didn’t know they had coronavirus, but had other side effects, said they potentially exposed others because people don’t realize they are infected. Doctors also don’t know how long the virus can affect the nervous system and if a full recovery can ever happen, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The effects of the illness may take years to be realized, with doctors saying that the virus could change patients on a molecular level and put them at risk of developing Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s down the road, according to The Wall Street Journal.