Coronavirus symptoms: How COVID-19 can damage the brain – what to look for

Coronavirus symptoms: How COVID-19 can damage the brain – what to look for

Coronavirus has confounded critics and the general public alike. The virus was initially dismissed by some as nothing more serious than the flu, but, as reports emerged from besieged hospitals across the globe, it became apparent that this was an altogether different beast. There is still much to learn about the virus that first emerged in Wuhan, China, but progress has been made.


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Studies conducted throughout its emergence and spread have documented the disturbing ways COVID-19 – the infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus – damages the body.

Coronavirus’ are a family of respiratory infections so naturally the focus has mainly been on the damage it inflicts on the lungs.

However, a study of COVID-19 patients in Wuhan reported a range of neurological symptoms.

More than a third of coronavirus victims who were hospitalised in the Chinese city exhibited neurological symptoms, including dizziness, headache and seizures.

How COVID-19 affects the brain

A vast body of research has since confirmed the neurological effects of the virus but whether it was a direct or indirect result of damage to other areas of the body remains a critical unknown.

A recent study published in the journal Altex has now provided a crucial piece of the missing puzzle.

The study followed unconfirmed reports of neurological symptoms in Covid-19 patients, including in the original outbreak in Wuhan.

The research, headed up by Thomas Hartung and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, found the first direct evidence that coronavirus could infect the human brain and replicate inside its cells.

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Professor Hartung and colleagues made the discovery after adding low levels of SARS-COV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19, to tiny neuronal balls known as mini-brains that are grown from human stem cells.

The researchers found the virus infected neurons in the mini-brains via the ACE2 human protein that is known to be an important entry point for SARS-COV-2.

The virus then multiplied within the neurons; within three days the number of copies had increased at least tenfold.

“It is really critical to know that our most precious organ can be directly affected by the virus,” said Prof Hartung, a toxicology expert at Johns Hopkins, adding it was still unclear how frequently this happened in COVID-19 patients.


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What are the main symptoms of COVID-19?

According to the NHS, the main symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

“Most people with coronavirus have at least one of these symptoms,” explains the health body.

UK health advice says to stay at home (self-isolate) if you have any of the main symptoms of coronavirus.

Anyone you live with, and anyone in your support bubble, must also self-isolate.

A support bubble is where someone who lives alone (or just with their children) can meet people from one other household.

How to treat symptoms while self-isolating

There is currently no specific treatment for coronavirus (COVID-19), but you can often ease the symptoms at home until you recover.

However, If you have a high temperature, the NHS says it can help to:

  • Get lots of rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids (water is best) to avoid dehydration – Drink enough so your pee is light yellow and clear
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen if you feel uncomfortable

“If you have a cough, it’s best to avoid lying on your back. Lie on your side or sit upright instead,” adds the health site.

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