For some patients with Covid-19, the symptoms are minimal. They get a headache, a temperature above 37 degrees, and body aches. For others, it means death.
Unraveling the mystery of the damage done by the novel coronavirus involves looking at the brain, the essence of everything that we are. That’s why researchers and doctors who are combating the disease warn that it can leave behind damage with long-term consequences.
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The way in which the virus enters your body, through the eyes, nose, and mouth, places it in very close proximity to the brain.
Héctor Ramón Martínez, Director of the Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the TecSalud Zambrano Hellion Hospital, says that the virus reproduces and attacks the body. This can lead to a loss of taste and smell.
“The virus can go straight to the temperature regulating centers. It causes a central fever that is very difficult to control. This is because of inflammation in the cranial nerves: the olfactory, trigeminal, glossopharyngeal, and vagus nerves, which are points of entry to the central nervous system for the coronavirus,” says the specialist.
Monitoring the disease
Some people have been able to shake off the disease at home without the need for special hospital treatment. However, a reduced ability to smell and taste, as well as pain in other parts of the body, are warnings to be more vigilant.
Martínez mentions that other neurological symptoms observed in Covid-19 patients are epileptic seizures, strokes, brain hemorrhages, spinal cord diseases, and disorders of consciousness that include stupor or coma.
“This virus can do direct damage to the central nervous system or cause a secondary disorder due to the cytokine storm and blood vessel thrombosis that occur in severe Covid-19 patients,” says the specialist.
The cytokine storm consists of an immune reaction to an agent that causes a disease. It’s a massive response against the infection.
Consequences of brain damage
In the most severe cases, the damage done by Covid-19 can cause a stroke. It can also cause a brain hemorrhage and (consequently) multiple thrombosis. Martínez says that it can even cause brain swelling, which can lead to death.
In the long term, there is a lot to study. The most efficient way of learning its effects is by analyzing the brains of patients who have died after contracting the coronavirus.
José Luna, Director General of the National Dementia Biobank (Biobanco Nacional de Demencias, BND) is looking for brains in order to learn what the disease does to the brain.
“There’s a project that we’re going to submit in collaboration with the Dominican Republic and Dr. Mar Pacheco. It’s a histopathological study of people who have died from this disease. We want to analyze the inflammation process by doing things such as looking for proteins that might be causing an impact at the neuronal level,” says Luna.
This collaboration seeks to identify whether there’s damage to the communication between neurons. Similarly, it aims to make a neuropsychiatric evaluation to learn whether the virus causes cognitive or emotional alterations.
The hospitals that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 go to are not 100% prepared. In other words, they can’t provide integrated treatment for the symptoms. This hinders treatment of all the damage related to the virus.
One way of preventing greater complications at neurological level due to this disease is by performing the necessary studies to prevent complications in patients.
Víctor Huggo Córdova Pluma, an internal medicine specialist and founder of the Science in Obesity Movement (Movimiento Ciencia en Obesidad), offers the following recommendations:
- If patients’ arms or legs ‘go to sleep’ or burn and they have a fever, this is a warning of the presence of Covid-19.
- When you have patients in a delicate state, you should immediately start looking for clotting or thrombi to know where they are and what type of treatment you can give them.
- Family and primary health care providers should be alert. Above all, they should look for memory and balance disorders.
- Lumbar punctures should be taken to analyze the fluid and make a diagnosis.
Córdova says that prompt treatment of brain clotting can prevent after-effects. These can severely affect patients’ lives once they have recovered from the disease.
However, Luna says that our current knowledge of the damage done by this virus is insufficient. There needs to be in-depth study of the brains to discover the causes.
The BND has protocols for studying the brains of people who have died from this disease. It is now seeking support from the government and health institutions to perform analyses.